By Chu-Ling Yee
La Habra Journal
Thousands of children could not contain their excitement as they anxiously waited to go on the merry-go-round at the 5th annual Citrus Fair.
Over 35,000 people attended the Citrus Fair to celebrate La Habra’s agricultural heritage on La Habra Blvd.
The La Habra Chamber of Commerce hosted the three-day event, which ran from Friday to Sunday. The event temporarily closed down parts of La Habra Boulevard located between Euclid Street and Cypress Street.
This year’s theme, “Back to the Farm” focused on the origins of La Habra’s economic growth- the walnuts, lemons and oranges- and how because of dedicated farmers, the city was born.
“We celebrate the history and what we’re learning from the history is how we can grow urban gardens right in our backyards, ” stated Mark Sturdevant, president of La Habra’s Chamber of Commerce.
The fair featured over 30 rides from Helm’s & Sons Amusement, a petting zoo and over 20 performances. All entertainers, including singers and musicians, had volunteered to perform. Local businesses set up booths to educate and promote their businesses. Sturdevant stated that the community has always helped one another.
Alcoholic beverages were served for the first time this year. Before patrons could enter the Beer and Wine
Garden, they were asked to show identification, proving they were old enough to drink. Each person was allowed two drinks at a time.
Dennis Edwards, a chamber of commerce board member, stated that due to the popularity of alcoholic beverages at this past Oktoberfest, they decided to host the Beer and Wine Garden at the fair.
Many of the fair’s attractions welcomed fans of all ages. Royce Johnson, 17, a student at La Habra High won first in the Lemon and Orange Eating contest. As part of his strategy, he ate two lemons and four oranges by biting directly into them instead of peeling the skin off first.
“I made sure I ate all the oranges first and then the lemons. My mouth started burning,” Johnson said. He won $100.
Families came out to enjoy a fun-filled day with their children, creating memories.
Madison Gomez, 6, attended the fair with her grandparents and said the Sliver Streak was her favorite ride, a ride that goes forwards and backwards, because it was “so fast.” When asked if she was scared of going on the Ferris wheel, she jokingly replied,” No, grandma was. I was hanging out with her. Scaredy-cat.”
“She loves the crazy stuff for a 6-years-old,” Charline Gomez, Madison’s grandmother stated.
The fair first started in 2011 after Sturdevant had a conversation with Recreational Manger David DeLeon in 2010 about planning an upcoming concert in Brio Park. Sturdevant suggested expanding the event into a fair. The chamber of commerce has been planning this event for the past six months.
This year’s fair celebrates over a hundred years of history. Before there was a city, local farmers gathered and lobbied to legislators, advocating the laws to be more favorable to farmers. The farmers’ club became the foundation for La Habra’s Chamber of Commerce and played a vital role in establishing the city, according to Sturdevant. La Habra became a city in January 1925.
Walnuts were the first cash crop in La Habra, causing a huge economic boom. Walnuts do not need to be watered continuously, which made it easier for farmers to grow. At the turn of the 20th century, walnuts became infested with the larvae of a moth, Dorothy Knox, docent coordinator at the history museum said.
Her family arrived in 1935 to help her uncle manage 26 farms. Knox recalls that citrus started to thrive in the area due to piped irrigation after the walnuts were destroyed. Willits J. Hole, developer of La Habra, brought water into La Habra from reservoirs in Murphy Ranch in Whittier. Employees at the Murphy Ranch brought in the water from the San Gabriel Valley.
Hole also bought the land and sold five acres to each family, giving others a chance to become financially stable. The citrus industry reached economic and prosperity in the 1940s.
Many were part of a co-op where they would take turns using the water.
“I can remember our foreman did all the irrigating on our ranch and he had a little piece of paper. He charted all these furloughs of water, how far they were going, how long it took them to get to the end,” she said.
The city no longer sells citrus commercially, but continues to grow.
“La Habra has always been very homey and very much a community that you hear a lot of stories and people cooperating and making things happen.”