WOODLAND — The Yolo County Fair quiets down in the heat of the day. Grandparents stretch out on benches. Girls in dresses wiggle their legs as they slurp down chocolate ice cream cones. A boy perches on a stool at a water-gun carnival game, but it’s just him so mom plays too. And the Holy Rosary Catholic Church’s taco stand only has two cashiers open instead of three.
Juanita Mendoza takes a break behind the fair’s taco headquarters, where the scent of fried tortilla and spicy salsa wafts in the breeze. Mendoza is one of the masterminds behind the fair’s favorite taco stand, though she will deny it if you ask. Ever since the church took over from the Guadalupe Society seven years ago, she and four other churchgoers have organized the preparation of 50 gallons of salsa and 44,000 tacos prepared every year.
“There’s no fair without tacos,” Mendoza joked.
The “taco committee” starts planning in January. They source the produce from local growers — most of this years tomatoes were donated by Muller farms — and the tortillas were mixed and pressed in a shop in South Sacramento.
The behemoth effort takes more than 5,000 pounds of tomatoes, 3,000 pounds of meat and 300 volunteers.
“We need more than that,” Mendoza said with a laugh.
Volunteers have two shifts: the morning shift rises at 3 a.m. to build the tacos near the church, before being trucked over to the fairgrounds where they are fried and loaded with lettuce, cheese and tomatoes.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s like a machine,” said Sharon Joyce, one of the volunteers.
“A well-oiled one,” followed up Hector Sandoval, who has been working at the taco stand since he was in high school.
Sales raise more than $40,000 in donations annually. This year, the money will go toward the construction of a new Holy Rosary church.
Mendoza said on Friday night, the lines wrapped all the way back through the picnic tables, with thousands of tacos prepped and sold. Friday made history at the fair, when both parking lots filled up and organizers closed the car gates.
“It was a once in a lifetime night, just amazing for us,” said Rita Moore, CEO of the fair.
The carnival brought back some favorites that the fair hasn’t seen for years, like Zipper and Vertigo, Moore said, and the music acts, from blues to rock ’n’ roll, have attracted roaring crowds. The Yolo County Idol competition was also popular — Julissa Perez, 8, took first place with her performance of “Mochila Azul.”
Moore cited media coverage — especially TV broadcasts — for the crowds.
“It’s like one of those teenage parties where word gets out and everybody comes,” Moore said.