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First day of Mandarin Festival draws crowd despite dreary weather

By: Max Puckett, Journal Correspondent
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Sunday is the last day of the 17th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival kicked off Friday at 11 a.m., despite questionable weather. Dusty Harrison of Loomis, a volunteer for the Newcastle Lions Club and manning the vendor entrance, says the weather won’t sour the event. “We will be here rain or shine,” Harrison said Friday afternoon. “We are happy right now. The weather is holding. There are a lot of people here now and a lot of vendors. Can’t say what tomorrow will bring.” Karen Spencer, marketing director for the Newcastle Area Business Association, the festival’s sponsor, agreed that the show would go on though attendance may be less than normal. “Last year it rained on Friday and there was still a modest turnout,” Spencer said. “People who’ve been here before know there are buildings to go into to get warm and escape the rain, if it rains.” Jim Jurkovich and his wife Carol, of Citrus Heights, have been coming to the festival for years. “We come every year, my wife and I,” Jurkovich said. “We usually bring the grandkids, too. We just bought three 10-pound bags of mandarins and a mandarin tree.” Elliot Rose, president of the Newcastle Area Business Association, said the event just keeps on growing. “The festival started in downtown Newcastle and we outgrew it,” Rose said. “The first year we had around 2,000 people, then 4,000, then 6,000. It just got too big. We had to move it here (to the Gold Country Fairgrounds). We get around 40,000 people now when the weather is good.” Joanne Neft, the founder of the event, says the festival and the fruits’ unique qualities have made the Placer mandarin, or Owari Satsuma mandarin, world famous. “We are world famous now due to the festival and a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture that found mandarins to be packed with synephrine, a natural decongestant that relieves common cold and allergy symptoms,” Neft said. “If you have a runny nose, eat three mandarins and it will disappear. When we first started the festival there were only six or seven mandarin growers in the area, now there are close to 70.” The study found that ten ounces of mandarin juice contain as much synephrine as one over-the-counter decongestant pill. According to Rose, proceeds earned by the Newcastle Area Business Association as a result of the event go to many different community causes. “We provide four $1,000 scholarships to Del Oro and Placer students for college,” Rose said. “We bought mattresses for the Newcastle Fire Department, Christmas lights for downtown Newcastle, and a lot more charitable causes in addition to going to help businesses in the area.”