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Theyre dreaming of a white February
The seven Almond Blossom queen hopefuls are, from left, Kaitlyn Bradley, Kaylie Sheaffer, Jessica Carmona, Francesca Arnaudo, Alyssa Sikkema, Desirey Ormonde, and Krista Tyhurst. - photo by HIME ROMERO

RIPON – Bing Crosby sang about the beauty of a White Christmas.

And the dozens of people that gathered Thursday night at the Spring Creek Country Club are hoping to see white trees next month.

Only it isn’t snow that they’re hoping for – at least not the kind that most people expect. Come February, when thousands of people will stream into Downtown Ripon for the annual Almond Blossom Festival, the glowing white petals of almond buds throughout the orchards around town will be a sign that the growing season is officially underway.

The sight will parlay nicely into the overall theme of the 52nd annual festival which pays tribute to the Ripon Grange. It is the agricultural institution that has long served as a social organization for local almond growers and played a crucial part of the weekend festivities by hosting a pancake breakfast the morning of the parade.

Thursday’s kick-off dinner – the first in a series of events that will be held over the course of the next six weeks – was also a chance for the community to meet the seven young women that will be vying for the title of the 2014 Almond Blossom Queen.

Kaitlyn Bradley, Francesca Arnaudo, Kaylie Schaeffer, Jessica Carmona, Desirey Ormonde, Krista Tyhurst and Alyssa Sikkema will all become close friends over the coming weeks as they’re graded in a variety of areas both cooperatively and individually – working hand-in-hand with Ripon Soroptimist Debra Emig and women from the service organization that has for decades made it their goal to mentor the young women through the process.

The parade’s Grand Marshal, Manuel Luis, was highlighted in Carmona’s speech before the capacity crowd while Krista Tyhurst talked about the role that The Grange – officially titled The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry – has in agricultural societies. The group is the oldest agricultural advocacy society operating in the United States today – forming just after the Civil War in 1867 – and has long played a central role in rural communities where farming was a focus of daily life.

Over the coming weeks the seven contestants will work with Emig and other Soroptimists to hone their writing skills for a personal essay, and will start selling raffle tickets for a drawing that annually benefits the Ripon Chamber of Commerce – who sponsors and organizes and Almond Blossom Queen court every year.