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Crowds flock to eat, buy mandarin oranges at Auburn festival

Crowds crammed the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn on Saturday for a chance to sample locally grown Satsuma mandarins and bring home bagfuls of the citrus fruit.

Ruth Dalrymple, 68, of Weimar couldn’t stop gushing about the sweetness and health benefits of eating the mandarins, a fruit originally found in the Far East.

“It’s so sweet,” she said, pointing to her loot for the day, a 10-pound bag.

About 30,000 people are expected to attend the three-day festival – which ends today – according to the Newcastle Area Business Association, the event’s organizer. This year marks the festival’s 20th anniversary.

The foothills of Placer County offer the perfect place to grow the Satsuma mandarins because of the elevation and weather, said John Irvin, the association’s president.

“At 1,000 feet elevation, the summers are hot and the winters are cold. The fruit ripens in November, and it’s sweet, seedless and delicious,” Irvin said.

Seventeen growers were on hand Saturday to dish out samples and sell their crops. A small crowd gathered in front of the McSorley Family Farms booth, winner of this year’s competition for the best fruit.

Asked about the secrets to winning, worker Michelle O’Connor said, “We just picked six (mandarins) off the trees at random places.”

“And it’s our first time attending the festival,” owner Jeanne McSorley said.

The mandarins were judged in three categories: appeal, sweetness and flavor.

The McSorleys expect to sell 5,000 pounds of mandarins by today.

Aside from eating and celebrating local mandarins, guests had plenty to do. More than 200 vendors, hawking everything from kettle corn to Obamacare, lined the fairgrounds. The scent of hickory smoked barbecue swept through the air.

In 2011, California farmers harvested 424,000 tons of tangerines and mandarins, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture. The Golden State is the largest producer of these fruits in the nation. The world’s chief producer is China, which grows 12.7 million tons every year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

For many, the event is a tradition.

Foresthill resident Wes Clark found himself navigating the throngs with a stroller.

“I’ve been coming here my whole life, for as long as I can remember,” said Clark, 37.

But Saturday was a special occasion – it was his son Jaxsen’s first time at the festival. The 16-month-old toddler appeared to enjoy himself, nibbling on a burrito.

“It’s great to see how much we have here locally,” Clark said.

IF YOU GO

What: Mountain Mandarin Festival

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn

Admission: $7 general, $5 seniors

Information: www.mandarinfestival.com

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