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The "Citrus King" of California

For Gene Lester, collecting citrus trees is his hobby of choice.



Some people collect stamps, coins, maybe even cars, but for one man, collecting citrus trees is his hobby of choice. With more than 200 different varieties, his orchard in the Santa Cruz mountains is believed to be one of the largest private collections in the country.

Gene Lester knows citrus. His collection of rare citrus plants is truly one of a kind; you won't find one like his anywhere on this continent. For him, finding rare citrus is more than a hobby, it's his passion. He has more than 500 trees in his collection, so you'd probably think an orchard of such variety would take a lifetime to assemble. But for Gene, it began when he retired from a world you could say is apples to his life of oranges.

"I actually worked for IBM for 34 years, where I was in software development. I managed projects for the most part," Gene said.

Gene retired from IBM and moved to the Santa Cruz mountains in 1989, where he planted his first row of mandarins. Now he has more than 50 different varieties of mandarins alone. And as a bonus, this 72-year-old retiree has found a way to merge his past life with his present---he uses the Internet to find rare or unusual citrus for his collection. All of this hard work is definitely paying off for Gene and is attracting attention from all over the country.

"To the best of my knowledge, Gene has the largest private citrus collection outside of the University of California or the USDA, not only in the state of California, but in the United States," Chuck Rust of California Rare Fruit Growers said.

Gene's collection is as close to a hidden treasure in the world of agriculture as you will find---rare and unusual citrus growing high atop a mountain near Santa Cruz. But that's just fine for Gene. He isn't looking to sell his fruit or make any money off it. He's happy just sharing it with friends and family. But for those lucky enough to see it, his collection is a modern-day orangerie in the making!


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