17 year-old watermelon farmer one of first to have melons

Friday, June 29, 2012
Carson Day, center, weighs melons on June 22 to sell at his stand at Dale's Body Shop in Cave City. Day, with helpers Tristain McSpadden and Dalton Britt, is a first year grower, as well as being a fourth genration watermelon producer. Day is also the city's youngest at 17, and was one of the first to have his melons for sale this season. Photo/Tammy Curtis

The watermelon roots run deep in Cave City. As one of the city's claim to fame items, melon growers take pride in their crops and this year, a fourth generation grower is making his debut on the infamous watermelon stand circuit.

The thing that sets first-year grower Carson Day apart from other growers in the city isn't the fact that his great-grandfather Mobley, grandfather Danny Wooldridge and uncle Chad Wooldridge also grew melons, but that he is the youngest of 11 registered growers, at just 17.

Day was also one of the first three growers, including his uncle Chad and Wendall Perkey, to get his melons out much earlier than the Fourth of July. He is a senior at Cave City High School and the son of Gwen Meeks and Craig Day of Cave City.

Day, who says he decided to grow melons to be responsible for himself and do his own thing, has accomplished quite a lot since he decided to plant and harvest six acres of melons. Day said many people don't believe kids his age can accomplish this, but he said he would like to show people he is, "very serious," about his melons.

At a recent Sharp County Farm Family interview, Joe Moore, the Sharp County Extension Agent, told a group at media day how shocked he was when Day came to him and told him his plans, yet how proud he was when he saw he was one of the first to have his melons for sale. His FFA advisor, Charles Kunkel, who has had Day in many of his classes, said he was very proud of his determination and that it makes him feel good to see young farmers succeed.

Day, who grows under the Day Farms name, is no stranger to hard work and has worked on the farm since he was very young. His six acres of melons were planted at various dates to come off the vine, both early and later.

With two helpers, Dalton Britt and Tristain McSpadden, the boy's summer is not the typical teens idea of summer vacation, as the three are up many mornings and in the field by 5:30 a.m., picking melons to get them to the stand and begin the weighing, pricing and placing of the registered growers stickers before 7 a.m.

He said, "They are pretty much like brothers, and I figured they would stay with me all summer."

Day said the biggest challenge was timing, which includes the weather and getting the melons off the vines in time. Day is also one of the only growers in the city who is using well water for his crop.

Day attributes getting his melons out early to good planning and being able to get his plants out on April 19, the day before the "frost free dates." The plants were started in a greenhouse, and are then transplanted. Day grows three varieties of melons, which are common to most growers. The red favorites include: Royal Sweet and Delta and the yellow meated Summer Gold variety, along with cantaloupes.

He said his family has been very supportive, although Day says he does the work and sells out of melons at his stand each day. He laughs saying, "I have sold everything I had and not had any come back or any complaints."

The boys were sporting their shirts, that were a gift from his aunt in St. Louis, with a farm logo and the back containing the humorous saying, "Even Chicks Dig Big Melons."

Day said he enjoys visiting with the many customers that come to his stand, located at Dale's Body Shop in Cave City. From out of town and out of staters to watermelon peddlars, Day said he just likes talking to them. With a red juicy melon set out, all are welcome to taste the melons before they buy them.

This early debut is apparently a welcome sight in Cave City. Trucks and trailers loaded with 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.

Before offering the melons for sale, growers must first weigh and then give the melon the famous stamp of approval, in the form of a Cave City Watermelon Growers sticker. These stickers prevent copycats from selling the famed melons under the Cave City name. When buying one of these juicy melons, insist on authenticity. This can only be assured by the signature round white stickers.

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 each year.

Each year, on the second weekend in August, folks from all over the state converge on the city to stock up on melons, take part in the food, car show, games, vendors, music and fun offered at the festival.

This year marks the 33th watermelon festival and will be held Thursday, Aug. 9 through Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Cave City Park. The Watermelon Festival Beauty pageant will be held June 29-30 at the Cave City High School. Currently, pageant contestants may download the contestant form at www.cavecityarkansas.info. The winners will ride in the Aug. 10 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.

Performers for the Thursday night show include the musical talent of Rockin' Luke Stroud, who is always a crowd pleaser with his Jerry Lewis rendition. Stroud is followed by the Spring River area's sweetheart, Lauren Gray, who was an American Idol contestant. The evening of entertainment rounds off with Geniva Hunter and The Big Creek Opera Band.

Friday night's musical lineup begins with the Billy Joe French Band, followed by Kelina Hutchins and Sarah Roark and the Lockhouse Orchestra. Friday night will also be highlighted with an evening cruise by the Cave City Car Club.

Saturday the Watermelon's grand finale kicks off early with the Kiwanis breakfast at the Cave City Baptist Church's Family Life Building at 6 a.m. The pancake breakfast will be served until 10 a.m., when the parade begins.

Also beginning around 10 a.m. is the Cave City Cruisers Car Show. These beautiful cars will be on display all day at the Cave City Park.

Political candidates will speak after the parade, followed by performances from Kathy Husky Wilson Studios and KC Dance Dynamics Studios. The music will begin with New Creation, followed by the crowd favorite, watermelon games.

Kim Dohn and Robert Hutchison and sons will take the stage at 6 p.m., followed by the Palmer Family and the Dove Brothers.

Other highlights of the day will be a horseshoe pitching contest, and a watermelon feast will be free to everyone to enjoy at 4 p.m., with a seed spitting contest to follow. 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.

Each night at 10 p.m., a cash prize with be awarded from free tickets festival goers can pick up each night at the grandstand. There will also be numerous vendor prizes. Thursday night the drawing will be for $200, Friday night for $300 and on Saturday night the winner will receive $500.

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, visit the Cave City Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.cavecityarkansas.info/festival.html.

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