Watermelons might have originated in Africa, but they grew to new heights in Georgia where the juicy red fruit is celebrated every year at the Georgia Watermelon Festival (cordelecrispga.com) in Cordele, Crisp County. Indeed, the month of June is devoted to paying homage to this ancient fruit that was first harvested 5,000 years ago in Egypt. Activities almost every day of the month in Cordele, known as the "watermelon capital of the world," celebrate the watermelon.
Although the word watermelon is featured in the names of most activities, not all physically involve watermelons, according to the 2011 Watermelon Festival brochure. However, many do, like the watermelon seed-spitting contest. How far can you spit one of those little black seeds? Believe it or not, winners of this contest have spit seeds more than 27 feet! If you would prefer something heftier, how about tossing a watermelon. If you're into less strenuous activities and have an artistic bent, the watermelon-decorating contest might be just up your alley.
Athletes aren't left out of the festival agenda with 5K and 10K races featured. The local Kiwanis Club sponsors a fishing rodeo at the Cordele Fish Hatchery. There's also a horseshoe tournament for adults and juniors; say, how many ringers can you get? A morning watermelon walk starts off the main day of the festival, which is the last Saturday in June.
Of course, any festival that features a food product is sure to involve eating it, and the watermelon festival is no exception. There's a watermelon-eating contest for kids and adults. Free slices of watermelon also are handed out to festival-goers one day. There's even a watermelon cooking school where you can learn new ways to fix this summertime favorite.
In a myriad of other activities, young women compete for the title of Watermelon Queen and then ride the community's float on parade day. A puppet show is put on for kids, quilters can display their prized projects, and 4-H members show their dogs. A photo show and talent contest round out the agenda. Besides the parade, main-day activities include an arts and crafts show, and displays of cars, trucks, antique tractors and fire equipment. The Crisp Regional Hospital Park hosts most of the events.
The Georgia Watermelon Festival began in 1949, and is one of the oldest continuous running festivals in the state. It is sponsored by the Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce. Watermelons are Georgia's number one cash crop, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, with about 200 million pounds annually shipped through the Georgia State Farmers Market at Cordele. (See Reference 2)
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