2018 Fallon Cantaloupe Festival & Country Fair: Decades of growth | NevadaAppeal.com

2018 Fallon Cantaloupe Festival & Country Fair: Decades of growth

Kaleb M. Roedel
kroedel@swiftcom.com

FALLON, Nev. — In 1985, in the middle of a closed-off Maine Street in downtown Fallon, sat a few pickup trucks, brimming with cantaloupes. Fallon residents and farmers mingled near the trucks, savoring slices of the orange-fleshed fruit.

Nearby, a handful of activities for kids and families took place. The gathering wasn't just another local farmer's market — it was the inaugural Fallon Cantaloupe Festival.

More than 30 years later, the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival has grown into the longest running agricultural festival in all of Nevada.

Which begs the question: When was the seed first planted for Fallon's now-famous cantaloupe celebration?

A FESTIVAL FORMS

In 1985, the Fallon Area Chamber of Commerce and a group of Fallon residents wanted to come up with a way to honor their agricultural heritage — a celebration of sorts.

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After all, it had been more than 30 years since the Nevada State Fair was held in Fallon. Gone was the Fallon-hosted Churchill County Fair, as well.

With that, the group, led by local farmer Rick Lattin, initially proposed an agricultural festival centered on cantaloupe and corn. They quickly realized, however, that focusing on one crop made more sense.

"We were working on it and we thought, oh, this is too difficult, let's just stick with one crop," said Lattin, owner of Lattin Farms, plotted four miles west of Fallon in the Lahontan Valley.

Cantaloupe beat out corn, the organizers decided.

"Hearts of Gold cantaloupes have been famous around here for almost 100 years," said Lattin, whose farm has produced such cantaloupes since the early 1900s. "We really didn't have any history of corn. We grow fantastic sweet corn here, but not very many people grow it and it hasn't really had the market appeal that the cantaloupe does. People will drive hundreds of miles to buy a Fallon cantaloupe."

For the first two years, Lattin said, the festival was held in downtown Fallon before — due to its quick growth in popularity — it was moved to the Churchill County Regional Park, where the event continues to be held.

dECADES OF GROWTH

The festival was initially called the Hearts of Gold Cantaloupe Festival, Lattin said, but organizers eventually decided to take "Hearts of Gold" off its name.

"We wanted to kind of broaden it and have all different kinds of cantaloupe at the festival," said Lattin, who serves as director of the Fallon Festival Association. "We grow about five to seven different kinds of melons that we feature at the festival."

Over the years, the festival has also added a variety of cantaloupe-centric food and beverages, including cantaloupe salsa, jam, bread, daiquiris, beer and more.

"I think the festival also gives us a chance to — and the last couple years we've done more of this — show what a cantaloupe can be used for," Lattin said.

In addition, the celebration has added everything from live music to a 4H & FFA animal barn to an antique tractor show.

Lattin added that the festival traditionally brings in anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people to the Churchill County Regional Park over its four-day celebration.

Festival, fair merge

Playing a role in the event's growth, in 2015, the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival joined forces with the Oasis Stampede & Country Fair.

Sue Frey, vice chair of the Fallon Festival Association, said the merger has brought together a strong group of volunteers.

"We've got a lot of good people putting things together," Frey said. "It's just great that all the volunteers come together and put this on. If it wasn't for our volunteers, we wouldn't have an event."

In 2017, the festival and fair moved from its traditional Labor Day weekend spot to the weekend prior.

Zip Upham, chairman of the Fallon Festival Association, said the move was to avoid competing with other regional events, such as the Nugget Rib Cook-Off in Sparks and the Winnemucca Tri-County Fair & Stampede.

"There's a lot of competition on Labor Day weekend, as well as people wanting to go out of town for three days," said Upham.

He said the move also gave the festival an opportunity to work with more vendors who normally wouldn't be available on the holiday weekend.

"We thought we would see a fairly significant drop in attendance last year, but our attendance pretty much held with what it's been traditionally, so it's worked out really well," he added.

For Lattin, that strong attendance serves as a testament to the community's continual passion and appreciation for its agricultural history.

"I think what sticks out to me is how far we've come," Lattin said. "I think agriculture is one of the rock foundations of the community. When we do assessments and surveys of the community and ask what the people want, they want a town that respects and honors the history and helps keep agriculture alive and vibrant and successful in the valley.

"And the cantaloupe festival gives us a chance to do that."

Memories from the past:

In early August, the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival & Country Fair asked people on its Facebook page to share their favorite memory from previous events. Below are a few of the responses, edited slightly for grammar and clarity:

Yvonne Gutierrez: We have been here 2 years and have been both years — it has become a wonderful tradition. My late father’s favorite fruit was cantaloupe, so we take a picture of him to the event.

Tracy Adams: The first time a boy ever asked me to dance was at the cantaloupe festival in 2001! The band was playing “Pretty Woman.”

Corrine Ellis: I love taking my kids every year, sharing it with them, when I have been going for many years before they were born. I love the concerts, animals, and having a fun family tradition to do with my kids. It’s great watching them dance and have fun with local people they have known their whole lives.

Darlena Hollenbaugh-Douglass: A great memory for us was in 2017 when grandma showed the little kids how to overcome a fear of snakes … she held a white and yellow boa snake across her shoulders and smiled. She did it for the kids, so they could see there’s no reason to be terrified of anything in life. We have so many fun memories of us at the cantaloupe festival but that one was the best!

Amiee Fulk: My favorite memory is when my kids were younger, it truly was a family affair. Both kids would enter the cutest cowboy and cowgirl contest — daughter rode in the Jr. Rodeo, and son loved the rides, animals and shows. Daughter would also enter her paintings, ceramics and photos. It really felt like we had a lot do and look at. Out of town family would come to watch the kids and enjoy cantaloupe daiquiris and the hypnotist show. I’ll never forget the year I was selected to be a participant in the hypnotist show. Weirdest thing ever! Also loved the Journey tribute band. Very glad to see you have brought back some tribute bands!

Art Place: I was part of the CCSAR unit one night several years ago. All of a sudden, the arena lost power. The entertainer on stage didn’t miss a beat and kept singing … at the top of his lungs. Collin Raye got the whole crowd singing with him, and it was kind of moving. When the song was finished and the crowd had stopped cheering and clapping … the power came back on. Collin said, “well, that’s too bad. It was just starting to get fun around here.”

Debra Powell: In 2012 I got the opportunity to paint faces and hang out all three days, what an amazing time that was. My child got to play all day while I painted faces. Family and friends came to my booth. I loved this family event — it has many more memories, as we always make it part of our family local tradition. Every year gets better and better we enjoy it so much. Looking forward to another great time making memories with family and friends.

Lisa Openshaw: My first time was on my honeymoon in 2004, and we took my cousin-in-laws — at the time they were 10 and 16, and we had a blast! It was my first time ever to a festival like this … being from a small town in Texas, I loved it! The rides, the food … just good memories.

Jem Thompson: When I was about 7 I entered a drawing of a garden into the contest and I won a blue ribbon I was so happy.

Sienna Burgess: My favorite memory of the Cantaloupe Festival was being apart of FFA and being able to help set up for this event that brings everyone together. Setting up the panels for all the animals to go into made me think about how many smiles those animals were going to bring. Last year, I got to take the younger classes around the Cantaloupe Festival to see what knowledge the booths had to offer. Between what weeds were native to Nevada to what farmers did with corn, the kids were so interested and had so many questions. I’ve been to a couple of festivals, but nothing will measure up to the Cantaloupe Festival!

Source: facebook.com/CantaloupeFest