Rush Springs Watermelon Festival
When you drive into the small town of Rush Springs, Oklahoma, you’re greeted by an odd shaped trailer on the side of the road. This big, fuchsia, metal wedge of watermelon tells you the never-changing date of the annual Rush Springs Watermelon Festival: the second Saturday in August.
This festival celebrates a vegetable that’s contributed so much to the Rush Springs economy. Yes, you read that right. Though a controversial subject, the watermelon is actually Oklahoma’s state vegetable, more closely related to the cucumber than to any fruit. As one of Oklahoma’s oldest and longest running agricultural festivals, the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival brings together families from all over the state, country, and even the world to celebrate this vegetable. Since 1940, watermelon enthusiasts have flocked to Rush Springs for this event. Last year, over 30,000 visitors attended the festival.
Ask any Rush Springs citizen, and you will be regaled with coming of age stories featuring the Watermelon Festival. For kids, the August festival serves as one last hurrah before the dreaded end of summer vacation. For farmers, it is one last opportunity to unload the juiceladen melons. Each year, over 50,000 pounds of sweet, Rush Springs watermelon is harvested and sold by the slice. For just a dollar, you can enjoy a sizeable hunk of ice cold, locally grown watermelon while relaxing in the Oklahoma heat. Can you think of anything more refreshing than that?
Even as an Oklahoma native, I was unaware that our state was known for its watermelon. But the sandy loam soil, natural springs, and hot, long summers make the area around Rush Springs prime watermelon country. Farmers around Rush Springs grow over 20 different varieties of watermelons, including the most popular Desert Sweet, Desert Storm, and Black Diamond.
The one type of watermelon you won’t find in Rush Springs? Seedless. If you’re going to attend the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, prepare to spit a few seeds. In fact, that seed spitting might even garner a trophy for you. As part of the annual celebration, festival attendees can register to spit watermelon seeds down the stage at noon on Saturday. Sign up to compete opens at 11 a.m. on the day of the festival. If you’re thinking of participating, go ahead and add your name to the list. The opportunity for bragging rights is there for the taking, and the event is just plain fun. The best technique for spitting seeds? Relax. You’re guaranteed to look silly, so take a deep breath through your nose, lean back, and spit.
In a time where big corporate farming has taken over most grocery stores, Rush Springs takes you back to the days when small-town farmers were the main source of produce for many families. “It’s tough to see rural communities struggling. These events help local farmers sell their product, but they also bring attention to the quality and care of these local farms,” said Joe Dorman, Watermelon Festival Chairman, Rush Springs City Council Member, and 1994 Watermelon Festival Seed Spitting Champion. “This festival really is about as local as you can get.”
Nearly every contributor to the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival is from the area. All of the promotion and press leading up to the event is done by the Watermelon Queen, a selected local high school student. It’s her job to travel around and promote the festival throughout the summer, in hopes of increasing attendance and awareness of this great event. You’ll truly find something for everyone at the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, with arts and crafts and a carnival for families and children, food stands run by local school programs, and even a 5K run on the morning of the event. Live music consisting of local talent will perform in the evening.
If you’re looking for a unique, inexpensive trip you can take on less than a tank of gas, head southwest to Rush Springs on August 13th. The Rush Springs Watermelon Festival gives you a taste of the labor of love small town farmers have for their produce, and shows you a unique part of Oklahoma’s agricultural history. The event is affordable for families, too. You could attend the festival without spending a dime. Any money you do choose to spend goes directly back into the local economy, supporting Rush Springs schools, organizations, and the local farmers. Come festival time, we’re all grateful for the fruit (or should we say vegetable) of their labors, that sweet, crisp, Oklahoma watermelon.