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Arkansas's Bounty

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Thursday, August 31, 2017

Arkansas’s Bounty

Arkansas is the nation’s largest rice-producing state, providing nearly 9 billion pounds of rice annually to more than half the country. Arkansas is also one of the nation’s largest providers of soybeans and peanuts. Here are some other tasty foods that Arkansans cultivate:

Peaches


Image from the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Arkansas State Archives, Department of Arkansas Heritage

Although this crop isn’t one of the state’s highest revenue generators, peaches are a staple in any Arkansas household during the summer months. Grown in 11 counties across the state, local growers have established “u-pick-it” farms for guests to harvest the fruit themselves and started festivals to celebrate this fuzzy fruit. Peach farmers also sell their harvest at farmers markets and roadside stands around the state. For decades, the Elberta peach was the most-grown variety in the state. In 2004, three new varieties were introduced – the White County, White Rock and White River – all of which were developed in Arkansas at the agri-research station in Johnson County to be grown in our climate.


Tomatoes


Image courtesy of OnlyInArk.com

To-ma-toe or to-mah-toe? Fruit or vegetable? No matter how you pronounce it, Arkansas officials have declared the Bradley County Pink Tomato our official state fruit and vegetable. Tomatoes are grown primarily in South Arkansas, in Bradley and Ashley counties. Pink tomatoes were first sold commercially in South Arkansas in 1923, at a time when cotton was becoming less profitable for many farmers. By the mid-1950s, Arkansas-grown tomatoes were available in grocery stores nationwide, and Warren debuted the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, which always occurs the second full weekend in June. The first known breed of commercial pink tomato was the Gulf State Market; it was grown in Bradley County for nearly 30 years. By the mid-1950s, the popularity among farmers for the Gulf State was replaced by the Pink Shipper variety. The Bradley Pink was introduced in 1961, and the Traveler in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, the pink tomato varieties were falling out of favor, and the preference (by growers, retailers and customers) was for red varieties, which are firmer, more resistant to disease and less likely to be bruised during shipping. Today, the red breeds are the primary tomato grown commercially in Arkansas.


Grapes


Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Home to four wineries, Altus (Franklin County) is the state’s unofficial Capital of Viticulture. Wine was first made in Arkansas as early as 1827 but the wine industry didn’t take root until the 1870s around Altus, which was settled by German-speaking Swiss immigrants. Stark’s Star, Banner, and Hubbard grapes were among the early Arkansas cultivars. Concord grapes were grown around Tontitown (Washington County), home to Italian immigrants and vintners, who founded the Tontitown Grape Festival in 1899. While the Arkansas River Valley and Northwest Arkansas remain the state’s primary grape-producing/wine-making regions, several wineries once operated around Jonesboro and in South Arkansas. In recent years, several wineries have opened in Central Arkansas.


Watermelons


Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Taking the first bite of watermelon is synonymous to the official start of summer every year. Heck, we love the fruit so much that we have not one but two festivals to celebrate the fruit every year – the Hope Watermelon Festival and the Cave City Watermelon Festival – where contestants boast the biggest and sweetest melons, and festival-goers get to see who can eat it the fastest or spit the seeds the farthest. In fact, the Cave City Watermelon Festival, founded in 1980, was inducted into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame in its inaugural year (2017). Hope claims it grows the world’s largest watermelons, while Cave City boasts the sweetest melons. Hope hosted its first watermelon festival in 1926, with a crowd of 30,000 at the 1928 event; the festival was discontinued for many years until its revitalization in the 1970s. The latest champion melon, grown by Lloyd Bright, weighed in at 268+ pounds in 2005. The Bright family has a history of harvesting big melons, as far back as 1973; a 1986 Bright melon (at 260 pounds) was listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

Sources:

  • •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2099# •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=5526 •https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/crops-commercial-horticulture/ •http://onlyinark.com/places-and-travel/pink-tomato-festival/ •http://www.pinktomatofestival.com/ •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=3156# •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=1171 •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=4929 •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/media-detail.aspx?mediaID=3373 •http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2121