FALLON - One of Fallon's marquee special events is the Annual Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe Festival & Country Fair each Labor Day Weekend.
The festival, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary and draws more than 15,000 visitors annually, was inspired by the rich farm land of Fallon and Churchill County and the produce grown on it.
In fact, in its inception it was called the annual "Corn and Cantaloupe Festival." The corn in the name has since given way to the popular Heart O' Gold, a sweet, juicy cantaloupe that is still grown in the valley.
Often fondly remembered as an experiment, the Hearts O' Gold cantaloupe was grown extensively between 1920 and 1930. Farmers gambled on the crop from the minute it went into the ground until it reached the consumer. A severe spring could easily wipe out a crop. An early fall frost could sneak in and kill the plants not quite ready for harvest. Poor packing had its way of splitting the fruit before it reached its destination. And competition from other markets in the west made growing cantaloupe a calculated risk at best.
Yet, for 15 years, Fallon produced the "king of cantaloupes" and virtually cornered the market with a reputation for jumbo-sized melons with unmatched sweetness. The cantaloupes were coveted by some of the most exclusive restaurants in Reno, San Francisco and Salt Lake City, and shipped east to markets in New York.
By 1921, high cash returns from limited acreage led to widespread melon planting around Fallon. A group of farmers organized the Churchill County Cantaloupe Growers Association and adopted the "Hearts-O-Gold" trademark for their produce.
This boom period for the Hearts O' Gold cantaloupe saw 44 farms growing melons on more than 500 acres of prime land in Fallon and around Fernley.
By 1929 and 1930, the depression and a severe drought doomed the specialty farming in Fallon. The cantaloupe needed much more water than other crops. A new hybrid cantaloupe was introduced in the market place that cut the demand for the Heart O' Gold.
Today, a few Fallon farms still produce the Heart O' Gold cantaloupe, which is coveted by many who live in the nearby urban areas of Reno, Sparks and Carson City.