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The Cloverdale Citrus Fair

While Cloverdale is only 27.8 miles or 41 minutes from Boonville the two towns are worlds apart. If you live in Yorkville you are more or less equidistant from both towns with a foot in each. Cloverdale does not seem to loom as large in the lives of people from Boonville or Philo or Navarro. This is (in my opinion) unfortunate as Cloverdale has on close inspection more than a few charms. 

This past weekend April 21-24 the “Cloverdale Citrus Fair Under the Big Top” came to town. Founded in 1892 this was the 130th Citrus Fair. In comparison, our Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show began in 1924.

The old saying about not being able to compare apples to oranges does apply. It is very true that the two fairs are very, very different. It is interesting that two towns so close to each other have such distinctive characters despite these globalized times. In a nutshell, Cloverdale excels in the variety of formal entertainment including, bands, singers, variety acts and dancers. Also, they have a lot of interesting commercial Vendor booths. Boonville excels in authentic down-home county fair features with lots more livestock, homemade exhibitions, floral displays and a real feeling of neighbors gathering to greet each other plus the rodeo, sheep dog trials and car show. Both fairs feature loads of “kids” from 0-100 attending, real family entertainment.

The Cloverdale Fair was the brainchild of George E. Baer a promoter of many civic enterprises including the budding (no pun intended) citrus industry. In a pamphlet he published in 1888 he touted the mild climate and soil conditions that produced a crop two months ahead of Southern California. Unfortunately severe frosts hit the crop in the 1920s putting an end to “Cloverdale the Orange Belt of Sonoma County.” But if you drive through town in the early winter you can still see lots of orange trees in people’s yards filled with bright orange balls. Archival photos online show very elaborate orange displays from past fairs. Italian Swiss Colony prepared one very beautiful one in 1907 when they were the second largest orange grower in the area. To learn more about the history of the fair and Cloverdale try www.cloverdalehistory.org or “Sonoma County’s Orange Belt and Cloverdale’s Annual Citrus Fair” by Katherine J. Rhinehart also online. Also soconews.org archival articles. 

Soco news is what is left of the now-defunct Cloverdale Reveille newspaper.

Another connected room, an auditorium, held the ongoing “Cloverdale’s Got Talent” show. 14 entrants from “Tiny Talent,” junior, teen and adult strutted their stuff. Ten entrants were singers and I think we have TV Talent shows filled with belters for this. Also on the bill, a piano player, a pair of salsa dancers, a tap dancer and, my personal favorite, 17 energetic dancing gymnasts from Studio W Dance performing to a number called “The Greatest Show.” Behind another door was the hall of commercial vendors selling everything from fudge, very sparkly jewelry, self-defense devices, exotic clothing and even a pair of guys who would draw really good character portraits for $20 per person.

The 2022 Fair was notable for its big turnout and a feeling of déjà vu back to happier times. In three hours of fair walking exactly three Covid masks were seen. The attendees are obviously “over it” for better or worse. Entering through a back gate on Sunday a charming sight of a young girl seated in a chair with her petite hen on her lap both seeming to be reading a book together. Entering the main building displays featuring oranges in the “Big Top Circus” theme was simple compared to those of old but fun to look at. One featured a giant cloverleaf and the word “Dale” — clever. In this room also were booths for the city, police, and emergency services.

I met the personable city manager David Kelley who offered me literature on the drought along with a classy metal flow restrictor for my shower and dye tablets to test for a leaky toilet tank. Lots of emergency preparedness literature on hand and a flyer for a Wildfire and Earthquake Expo at their fairgrounds on May 1st 10-4. Free hand-crank radios while they last www.nosococert.org/expo

Another door led to wine tasting — $15 for 3 tastes. Exiting the building the fairgrounds stretched ahead. Entering into the arts and home economics, collections, and floral displays all merged together we were looking for my friend’s friend Cheri Tippler. We asked the volunteers at the desk what her role was and after a minute they replied in unison “Everything!” From this we gathered she was a real shaker and mover of the fair. Later when we found her she told us her title was “Superintendent of still exhibits” and there were a lot of “still” exhibits. Great job Cheri! 

Speaking of hard workers I met Alison Keaney in the fair office when I entered to ask for any materials on the history of the fair. Smiling and helpful she whipped out an 8 page Fair History, Facts, and Citrus Facts packet. Did you know for example that Citrus was introduced to the Cloverdale area in 1869 by Annie and Rachael Brush who brought orange seeds from Panama? Along the way I had a $10 giant corndog (good, fresh, expensive).

Saw the Mariachi Band Barragan (10 strong, good, loud, with a full sized harp and a horn). Also the Ballet Folklorico with tiny and teen dancers in colorful beribboned costumes— beautiful girls all. I saw a display case with a collection of all things hummingbird and you would not believe how many things hummingbird there are — even a sign reading “Caution Area patrolled by attack hummingbird security company.” Also a collection of K-Pop Korean pop stars trading cards— who knew? A very amazing performer named Orion Griffiths who could balance on anything and was bulging with muscles everywhere. The crowd kept trying to press money on him, which he gallantly and steadfastly refused. Fascinating back-story on him— look him up on line. And a fabulous petting zoo with lots of healthy looking and frisky young animals. It was a fun day.

One Comment

  1. Lou April 30, 2022

    Nice article! I’ve lived in Marin (all my life) and in the 1960s my parents would participate in square dance exhibitions at the Fair, so we got to go up and spend a long weekend with family friends in Cloverdale. Many fond memories of the town and the fair! Imagine the auditorium filled with hundreds of people dancing in 8-person squares, in perfect unison and colorful Western-style costumes with bloomers that flashed as the women twirled. My parents started a Marin County youth group where my sister and I learned to square dance and we joined in the fun at the Citrus Fair. Thanks for the memories! Do they still have square dancing at the fair?

    By the way, I cannot find the history of the fair at the cloverdale site – got a direct link?

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