Mandarin Magic: Family farm changing the citrus landscape in California’s Central Valley

A citrus revolution is quietly unfolding among the picturesque foothills of Orange Cove, California. In a region known for its Navels, Mulholland Citrus is bringing Mandarin oranges to the forefront.

Although the region is traditionally known for its oranges, it was not until the late nineties that mandarins made their mark in California’s Central Valley. This transformation is nothing short of remarkable. Driven by their unparalleled convenience, mandarins have become one of the most sought-after fruit varieties in a span of just a few decades.

At the heart of this citrus journey is Mulholland Citrus, a family-run business spanning generations.

“Mandarins weren’t even a common sight in the Central Valley until the late nineties,” explains Heather Mulholland, one of the passionate citrus growers behind Mulholland Citrus.

Mulholland, along with her father, Tom, manages this “seed-to-shelf” enterprise. The Mulholland name carries weight—with a rich legacy traced back to architect William Mulholland, who designed the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

“I absolutely love mandarins; they’re a perfect, healthy snack,” gushed Mulholland.

The Mandarin orange’s appeal lies in its high Vitamin-C content, good fiber, and sheer simplicity. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite on the go or packing snacks for kids, mandarins fit the bill perfectly. However, this healthy, easy-to-open snack is a bit more challenging for the farmers on the other end of the supply chain.

As Tom explains, harvesting Mandarins is an art. Every delicate orange must be meticulously clipped to avoid surface ruptures that can lead to decay and spoilage. Given the labor-intensive nature of the process, labor shortage remains a pressing concern. Additionally, water scarcity has led to fields being left fallow, a pragmatic response to the challenges faced.

Yet, despite these hurdles, the Mulhollands remain optimistic about the future of Mandarin oranges in California. Tom points out that the navel orange has thrived in the state for 150 years, while mandarins have only been a significant player for about three decades.

“How lucky are we now to be here with the best Mandarins in the world?” he said.

As the next generation to lead the citrus operation, Heather envisions a future firmly rooted in farming and growth. She plans to put her unique stamp on the family legacy, embracing her own style and flair. Her commitment to innovation and a hint of fun promise a vibrant future for Mulholland Citrus and the mandarin orchards of Orange Cove.

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