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Fun by the bite

Attendance high at 15th annual Mandarin Festival
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Joanne Neft had tears in her eyes as she gazed up at the crowd coming down the hill. “I just can’t believe this is happening,” she said. Neft was watching the steady stream of people crowd down the walkway to enter the 15th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. The three-day celebration includes local mandarin growers selling their harvest, multiple food vendors and numerous craft booths. Neft, who founded the festival 15 years ago, said she was “overwhelmed” by the seemingly larger crowds at the event so far this year. On the festival’s first day Friday, 4,000 people attended. Neft said she anticipates that number skyrocketing to 40,000 by the end of the event Sunday. Auburn resident Jennifer Lyons and her 3-year-old son, Josh, decided to forgo watching University of California, Berkeley football’s “big game” Saturday to attend their fourth Mandarin Festival. “We love the mandarin festival,” Lyons said. “There is something for everyone.” Josh said he had already eaten five mandarins. “They taste like pears,” he said. Lyons estimated her family consumed about 100 pounds of mandarins last year, and was excited to share the event with her loved ones again. “It’s a very wholesome festival,” she said. For mandarin growers, the event is a chance to showcase the fruit that many say is the best in the world, at least according to Miller Honey Mandarins owner John Miller. Miller said he has participated in the festival since 1997, soon after he planted his first mandarin tree. “They’re healthy and good for you,” Miller said of the orange-colored citrus fruit. “Almost nothing comes close to the nutrition content they’ve got. They’re loaded with nothing but good stuff.” Carol Martin had nothing but good feelings as she picked up a mandarin tree for her boss to present as a housewarming present. “They’re so good and so fresh and reasonably priced,” Martin said. Neft said she thinks prices are part of why attendance seemed higher at this year’s festival. She said the fact that people are taking less extended vacations, coupled with the mass promotion festival organizers do year-round to promote the event, was the reason for the joy-inducing crowd she watch pour in Saturday morning. “People are experiencing for the first time things available in Placer County,” Neft said. “I feel like standing here and crying — but they’re tears of joy.” The festival continues from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. today at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.