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The hills are alive... with citrus!

The picturesque countryside that is attracting home building and urban refugees has also proven ideal for growing Satsuma mandarins.



Another chapter of California's agricultural diversity is unfolding in the Sierra foothills.

The picturesque countryside that is attracting home building and urban refugees has also proven ideal for growing Satsuma mandarins.

"We have the climate, soil and great location to make it work," said Tony Aguilar Jr., who with his father operates Highland Orchards in Penryn. "One of our secrets to growing great mandarins is our water source. Runoff from the snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada mountains is a soft and sweet water that I think adds a lot to the quality of our fruit."

The Placer County mandarin business started in the 1960s, when disease wiped out the local peach and pear crops. A few farmers planted mandarins. They found that the warm days and cool nights were ideal for growing fruit that was pleasing to the eye and the palate.

One of those pioneering farmers was Edmund J. Pilz, whose grandson Steve continues the family tradition by growing 12 acres of mandarins at Hillcrest Orchards in Penryn.

"It's exciting to see the customers who are bringing their grandkids back and introducing them to the farm," Steve said. "I love seeing the fun a small kid has while he peels the mandarin himself. You can almost watch them drool in anticipation!"

What growers call a zipper peel is one of the strengths of the fruit, as a person can easily eat a mandarin in the car or on the go without making a mess. The tangy, sweet taste and absence of seeds are other selling points. So is nutrition. Mandarins are free of saturated fat and sodium, and an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium and senefrin, which some researchers say helps prevent colds.


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