Goleta Lemon Festival.
Pie-eating contestants stuff their faces with lemon meringue pie at the Goleta Lemon Festival on Saturday. (Rebecca Caraway / Noozhawk photo)

Wind and dark clouds threatening rain didn’t keep lemon lovers away from celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Goleta Lemon Festival at Girsh Park on Saturday. 

The event, which is scheduled to continue Sunday, was filled with live music, a classic car show, a pie-eating contest, an interactive safety street with law enforcement, and games and rides for the whole family.

The festival has been part of Goleta for 30 years and serves as a way to bring the community together to celebrate the city’s citrus past.

Lexi Zaragoza and Kelly Volk said they had been seeing festival signs and fliers around town and wanted to check it out for themselves. Having moved to Goleta just a year ago, it was their first opportunity to attend.

“Since we moved here, having Goleta and Santa Barbara together, I feel like there’s always been something to do,” Volk told Noozhawk

The two recently enjoyed Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days and Solvang’s Danish Days, taking in all of the community events they can. 

Zaragoza attended UCSB but said it wasn’t until she graduated that she realized how much the area had to offer.

“Somehow, after all four years, I never realized any of this other stuff was going on,” Zaragoza told Noozhawk. “Now that we’re back in the area, it’s been pretty cool to see everything.”

Goleta Lemon Festival.
For Katie Adams, creator of Lemon & Lei and owner of the bath and body care store of the same name in Ventura, this year’s Goleta Lemon Festival was one of the first events at which she’s had a booth since the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Caraway / Noozhawk photo)

Zaragoza and Volk told Noozhawk that they were looking forward to seeing the old car show and watching the pie-eating contest. 

The pie-eating contest at the American Rivera Stage brought in a large crowd to watch their kids, friends and families stuff their faces with lemon meringue pie from Anna’s Bakery.

There were two back-to-back contests, one for kids age 12 or younger and the other for anyone age 13 or older. Contestants had to eat as much of the pie as they could in a minute.

Assemblyman Gregg Hart, Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Laura Capps, Goleta Councilman James Kyriaco and Councilwoman Luz Reyes-Martín, and Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte picked contestants for the contest and the winners. 

The Goleta Lemon Festival also included vendors and booths selling jewelry, clothes, soaps and candles.

For Katie Adams, creator of Lemon & Lei and owner of the bath and body care store of the same name in Ventura, this year’s festival was one of the first events at which she’s had a booth since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve really missed coming out to these,” Adams said. “I’ve been doing this for nine years now. These are my favorite things to do.”

Adams told Noozhawk that it felt great to be back at the Goleta Lemon Festival and that this year’s celebration seemed bigger than ever. 

On Saturday, attendees enjoyed live music and performances by Macomber Karate, Momentum Dance Co., AJ and a Guitar Sand Haley Experience, the 192s Band, Tequila Mockingbird and Area 51.

On Sunday, the crowd can expect performances from Dos Pueblos High School Cheer, Dance Unlimited, The Youngsters, illunis, Flight 805, Brittney and the Bsides, and The Tearaways.

When the festival first began in 1993, it was held at Stow House. Local historian Tom Modugno told Noozhawk that the event originally served as an intimate community gathering before it turned into what the community knows today.

The importance of lemon agriculture can be traced back to the 1800s, when William Stow was trying to find a good crop to grow in the area. After trying tobacco, he decided to give citrus fruits a try.

Goleta Lemon Festival.
Attendees walk the grounds of the Goleta Lemon Festival, which included live music, a classic car show, and games and rides for the whole family. (Rebecca Caraway / Noozhawk photo)

Stow’s success led to more farmers in the area growing lemons, but the crop really took off during the Great Depression because they were an affordable snack, according to Modugno.

“The lemon industry really kept Goleta surviving economically when the rest of the country was really struggling,” Modugno said. “There were so many lemons to be picked, and it was a crop that made fruit multiple times a year. So that got us through the Depression in this area.”

Today, most of Goleta’s lemon fields are gone, plowed over to make room for housing and businesses, but the festival now gives the community a chance to come together and remember Goleta’s roots.

The Goleta Lemon Festival will continue Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Girsh Park.