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Scarcity of tomatoes, sportsmen, but lots of festivities

February 16, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

NILAND — Tomatoes and sportsmen were scarce, but there were plenty of festivities at the Niland Tomato & Sportsman's Festival Saturday.

The festival started 62 years ago when Niland was a tomato-packing town, Chamber of Commerce Secretary Kathy Hobbs said.

Farmers don't grow the tomatoes here anymore but "tomato" is still kept in the festival's name, Hobbs said.

There is a tomato-packing contest on Saturday night, just for tradition. Hobbs said she thinks the tomatoes for the contest were ordered from a grocery store.

The sportsmen still come to Niland every year for hunting, but most are gone by now. Hunting season ended in January, Niland resident Clyde Wilson said.


Wilson manages Oasis Sanctuary, a duck hunting club near Salton Sea.

He said he only saw one other sportsman at the festival.

But the festival was well attended by local residents, permanent and seasonal "snowbirds."

"This is our one big thing for the year," Chamber of Commerce president Donna Dearmore said. Dearmore is the festival organizer.

The festival brings people from all over the county, she said.

The festival includes amusements, food, craft vendors and contests such as the "whiskerino" and "knobby knees" contests, both at noon today.

Men are judged on their facial hair for the whiskerino contest. The knobby knees contest is open to women and men.

"Whoever has the ugliest knees wins," Hobbs said.

Winners are chosen according to crowd response, she said. Both contests have a first-, second- and third-place finishers.

Saturday's festivities included a parade through downtown Niland.

The theme of the 62nd annual parade, "We Shall Overcome," was evident by anti-Osama bin Laden posters carried by some parade entrants.

The parade's overall sweepstakes winner was Deputy Do-Right from the Imperial County Sheriff's Office.

Deputy Do-right is a radio-controlled German shepherd robot that drives a small patrol car, talks with and sometimes squirts water at bystanders.

"I still hold a grudge against the dog because he got me wet, but he's so cute," Niland resident Kayla Cook said.

The 17-year-old Cook, along with 24-year-old Andy Sanchez of Niland, and seasonal Slab City resident Art Marston, 74, judged the parade.

The festival continues until 10 tonight at the Niland Chamber of Commerce on Highway 111.

Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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