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In a town where produce reigns, a new Carrot Queen is crowned

16-year-old Samantha Castañeda is Holtville, California’s, 76th Carrot Queen. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)
16-year-old Samantha Castañeda is Holtville, California’s, 76th Carrot Queen. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)

The Super Bowl wasn’t the only marquee event of the past weekend. On Sunday, Holtville, Calif., wrapped up its 76th Annual Carrot Festival.

The farming community near the U.S.-Mexico border likes to brag that it is the “carrot capital of the world.” Indeed, not far from Holtville’s main street, farms growing lettuce, broccoli, spinach and carrots spread out in all directions.

“I go to school with farmer’s kids,” says 16-year-old Samantha Castañeda, who was crowned this year’s Carrot Queen, an honor that some kids in town have aspired to for generations. “It’s normal to see a tractor in the middle of the day behind you in traffic.”

On Saturday hundreds of people from nearby towns lined up along the parade route. Floats bearing mountains of fresh produce lumbered down the street. From the back of a vintage orange and white convertible, Castañeda waved to the crowd in an emerald dress, a tiara atop her head.

“They’ll know me not as the little trumpet girl in the band,” she said. “Now they’ll know me as the Carrot Queen.”

A float at the 76th Annual Carrot Festival in Holtville, Calif. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

The festivities of the weekend were overshadowed somewhat by a decades-long drought that has threatened the region’s water supply. The Colorado River is the sole source of irrigation for the farms around Holtville.

Water is “definitely a concern,” says Mike Webb, a resident who works on a carrot farm. “There’s only so much to go around.”

Arianna Venegas is the 2022 Carrot Queen from Holtville, Calif. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

Last year’s Carrot Queen, 18-year-old Arianna Venegas, is aware of how important farming is in Holtville. She said she’s been working in the carrot fields with her dad since she was a baby.

“I Iike to get my hands dirty,” she said. “That’s what I love about agriculture. It’s the hands-on work.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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