Cantaloupe Fest starts Thursday | NevadaAppeal.com

Cantaloupe Fest starts Thursday

Aly Lawson
alawson@lahontanvalleynews.com

Board member and vendor coordinator Don Hardy, who has been involved with the Cantaloupe Festival since 1984 when held at the old fairgrounds, said this year's event is the best he has seen.

The 32nd annual Fallon Cantaloupe Festival & Country Fair starts Thursday, running through Sunday as a prime opportunity for all ages to have a blast learning about Nevada agriculture at the state's longest-running agricultural celebration.

"I am very excited this year about the fair because we have moved off the Labor Day weekend, which has allowed us to have two concerts, one on Friday night and then one on Saturday night," Hardy said. "We also have a carnival with several rides.

"The changes the hardworking board has made this year has made this fair very family friendly — we have something for everybody."

A GOLDEN TRADITION

The Fallon Festival Association has shared and is part of a history steeped in local tradition. When Hardy saw the inaugural festival take shape in the 1980s, he said there was resurgence in the local food movement and farmers markets growth nationwide.

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The famed Hearts of Gold cantaloupe launched in the Swingle Bench area of Churchill County in 1911, with meticulous crossbreeding experimentation by O.J. Vannoy, who had found the seeds originally developed in Michigan. The candy-like melons were grown in abundance in the 1920s and 30s as the demand for them in the eastern states grew.

It has been rumored Fallon Hearts of Gold were served in the White House.

The hard rind aided the fruit on cross-country rail shipments, and the high price per crate made the crop worth the risk to Fallon farmers. But when the market crashed in the late 30s, the eventual festival's namesake almost went extinct.

Local farmer Rick Lattin explained how the long-distance market didn't survive with the short shelf-life heirloom variety making the trek east.

"Most of those melons rotted on the train side in New York," he said. "It's interesting history, and it's great history, but the bottom line is it was a dismal failure."

Even with today's refrigeration and speed, the Hearts of Gold are a sensitive melon, he added; the hybrids have a longer shelf life.

"We're working on promoting the Nevada melon for local sales at supermarkets — it's kind of making a comeback now," he said, adding there are Yerington growers growing melons, new growers here in Fallon and hopefully the market will reach the point of shipping to California.

The briefly countrywide melon crop was replaced by the more stable production of alfalfa in the Lahontan Valley and was only kept in production thanks to a group of six Chinese immigrant families. The Hearts of Gold persisted and a few local families were able to revive the vine back to its former glory, shares the festival association.

In the 80s, a group of Fallonites saw the chance to bring back the beloved melon with fervor and also create a fete to fill the gap left by the absence of the Nevada State Fair.

The association says the 2015 merge of the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Oasis Stampede & Country Fair brought together a strong group of volunteers whose goal is to provide the best program of activities annually.

TASTE BUD TREATS

A major addition to the 2017 fest is the Cantaloupe Corral, where everything on the menu is made with Fallon Hearts of Gold cantaloupe. The line-up includes both sweet and savory items, salads and comfort food. The 10 gourmet plates from Cherry Bomb Catering, with melons provided by Lattin Farms, can be chased with cantaloupe beer from Great Basin Brewing Company.

The brewer isn't just infusing beer, said festival organizer Robyn Jordan, but has actually brewed the variety.

Attendees will also find libations including the famous cantaloupe daiquiri from Troy's Double Shot Bar at the Old Dry Gulch Saloon, an Elks Club-sponsored beer garden. And be sure to try the eye candy that's the half-cantaloupe a la mode with a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the center.

The edible spread also includes a farmer's market stocked with fresh area produce including Fallon's trademark melons.

As local farmers explain, the high desert is one of the biggest reasons why cantaloupes here are so special. With hot days and cool nights, the produce receives the warmth it needs by day but cooler temperatures at night foster higher sugar content. Plus the local varieties with short shelf lives but that extra-sweet taste add to the list of must-haves.

Jordan said the festival date being a week earlier is also serving the crop selection well given this year's early heat-up.

"It's been going good; we're looking forward to the festival," said Jamie Coverston of the area's First Fruits Sustainable Farms. "We have a whole bunch of Hearts of Gold melons, watermelon, cucumber, squash."

Coverston added they will have a food booth with all local food including local beef for hamburgers. She said it's stressful for a couple months with growing, going to markets every day — but they're optimistic about the festival date and hope people will attend.

ENTERTAINMENT FOR EVERYONE

As Hardy said, this year also marks the return of the carnival. Shoeppner Shows Carnival is coming to town and featuring over a dozen rides and midway games of varying thrills, laughs and levels. Organizers said the community asked and the festival committee was able to make it happen.

There will also be a two-day tribute to country music concert series. The shows will have "A Tribute to Garth Brooks and Shania Twain" Friday (The Garth Guy and Shades of Shania) and "A Tribute to Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Jason Aldean" Saturday. All live stage entertainment is included in this year's festival admission.

Moreover, there will be a juggling comedian and local band Serenity Awaits. Sam Malcolm is an award-winning performer who does a combination of stand-up comedy and world-class juggling. Serenity Awaits is a Forte Award nominee, a Reno music achievement.

A LOT OF AG IN ONE SPOT

Participating agricultural organizations with educational exhibits and demonstrations include the Churchill County Farm Bureau, High Desert Jr. Grange, Nevada Department of Agriculture, Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, FFA, 4-H and the Churchill County Museum.

Festival-goers can see staple attractions like the interactive 4-H and FFA animal pens with horses, dairy cows, steers, donkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits.

The Department of Ag will again be bringing their popular robotic Holstein cow, Moolissa; she provides a hands-on opportunity to learn how to milk a cow. Also Marshall Brown's World of Corn is a recurring highlight not to miss.

All this in addition to a tractor display, fair contest exhibits as well as an array of carnival food and shopping vendors.

CONTESTS GALORE

The cornucopia doesn't stop there. There will be DJ dance parties, a mechanical bull, colossal cantaloupe contest and multiple renditions of competitions ranging from the cantaloupe derby to a greased zucchini toss or rubber chicken fling as well as various races and eating contests for both children and adults alike.

This year marks the first annual Kent's Cornhole Classic with the winning duo taking home all the entry fees. Organizers also added the Cantaloupes & Canines 5K Saturday morning. The Splash Dogs water show will delight and its separate competition is open to any pup. Check out the festival schedule online to see other furry-friend contests and the full range of games for humans.

You'll also spot the Cutest Little Cowgirl and Cowboy competition in the lineup — and keep an eye out for the Cantaloupe Festival Queen and King.

KEY INFO

Event hours at the Churchill County Fairgrounds are Thursday from 5-11 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 9 a.m.-midnight and Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now online at http://www.FallonCantaloupeFestival.com including pre-sale carnival tickets and family books, or visit CC Communications or Jeff's Digitex Printing.

General admission is $7, with children 10 and under free. Weekend passes are also available and parking is free.

ATMs are on site and hit up the website to double-check the festival's dog policy or review the premium book detailing fair contest exhibits.

Remember, you can also follow the festival via social media.

As the festival's marketing this year shares, the event will be "one in a melon."

"The festival is a great place for Churchill County to display their agriculture and show what Lahontan Valley has to offer," Hardy said. "It is a great place for people to come together and enjoy a family atmosphere, and celebrate the fall harvest."

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