Once the town of Cave City is mentioned to anyone who isn't a local, chances are they will have heard of the pink and yellow melons and cantaloupes that make this region of Sharp County and the city of Cave City famous.
A convoy of trucks heaped with Cave City melons could be seen all morning July 17 making their way down the highway loaded with melons destined for their respective watermelon stands just in time for the anticipated weekend rush. This was an apparently welcome sight in Cave City. The trucks and trailers loaded with one of Cave City's claim to fame items, the sweetest melons in the state, brought some of the first substantial loads of melons to the stands along the stretch of highway in Cave City and toward Evening Shade.
According to registered Cave City grower Johnny Carter with Johnny Carter farms, this year's melons are a few weeks later than usual, due in part to the large amount of spring rain the area suffered around planting time. This rain made it difficult or unfeasible to get the plants into the ground at the customary planting time. Had they been planted during this rainy spell, it is probable the plants would have been drowned out or rotted in the ground. While most years the dripping sweet melons are a tradition for the fourth of July holiday or shortly thereafter, 2009 has put those sought after treats a few weeks late.
The line of customers waiting for the melons was quite a spectacle. As the trucks heaped to the cab with melons pulled in, vehicles began to swarm Johnny Carter's melon stand. The same scenario could be witnessed at both Abra Perkey and Chad Woodridge's stand as well as that of Wendell and J.W. Perkey. One customer at the Carter's stand was purchasing melons to take back to Mississippi and told Tyler Asberry, an employee of Carter's who helped her to the car with the heavy melons, that she would be back for more.
The young men who help Carter in the fields could not unload and weigh the melons fast enough. It was obvious by their dingy clothes and sweaty bodies that these young men had already put in a hard morning's work in the fields picking the massive truckloads of melons. There was no rest for the weary as they pulled into the stand to witness a stampede of customers eager to purchase the long awaited sweet melons that make the city famous.
Each melon must be weighed in, priced and stamped with one of the Cave City Watermelon Grower's stickers before the customers can purchase them. The young men worked tirelessly to keep up with the crowd. The stickers that must be place on the watermelons, separate the registered growers from others who, in some towns try to sell their melons under the famous Cave City growers name. When buying one of these juicy melons, insist on authenticity. This can only be assured by the signature round white stickers that are the trademark of the Cave City growers.
The melons and cantaloupes have always grown very well in the sandy soil that is prevalent in the area. The city's renowned melons became famous as far back as 1938 when the first growers association was organized, with board members being elected in 1955. The local tradition of the Cave City Watermelon Festival has been held every year in August since 1980 when Charles and Anita Landers began the tradition that continues to grow.
This year marks the 30th watermelon festival and will be held Thursday, Aug. 6 through Saturday, Aug. 8 at the Cave City Park. Beauty pageants have already been held and the winners will ride in the Aug. 8 parade. The Thursday night kick-off includes vendors with lots of unique items for sale and numerous food booths including everything from frozen lemonade and ice cream to fried twinkies and barbecue. The performers for the Thursday night show include musical talent throughout the evening, prizes will also be given away nightly. Friday evening includes musical entertainment as well as a drive through of the park by the Cave City Cruisers car club. Saturday morning the Kiwanis will sponsor a pancake breakfast at Cave City High School prior to the parade. There will also be a car show and lots of music in the park. A watermelon feast will be free to everyone to enjoy at 4 p.m. with a seed spitting contest to follow. The music will continue, and at 10 p.m. there will be a $500 cash prize awarded. Throughout the festival, winning melons can be viewed by the public with an auction of these award winners on Saturday afternoon following the watermelon feast. All the proceeds go to Arkansas Children's Hospital.
This event is free to the public and area growers invite everyone to bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the fun in the park. For more information or line ups of musical talent, visit the Cave City Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.cavecityarkansas.info/festival.html.