Arkansas Rice Festival
The Arkansas Rice Festival, held during the second weekend of October in Weiner (Poinsett County), was founded to promote the consumption of Arkansas rice and to celebrate Arkansas’s status as the number-one rice-producing state in the nation. It coincides with National Rice Promotion Month and the final days of the rice harvest in Arkansas.
In 1976, a rice-tasting and rice-farming history exhibit was organized as part of the state’s contribution to the country’s bicentennial commemoration. The success of the event inspired a group of local citizens to plan a two-day festival. The Arkansas Rice Festival Board was formed in 1977 and officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Nine board members, including rice industry representatives, millers, farmers, and financial officers, served staggered terms. Joanna Freeman was appointed president of the Rice Festival Committee, a position she served in for fifteen years. About 7,000 attended the first festival, and ensuing years attracted up to 12,000, with many visitors from other states. In 1986, Nippon, a Japanese television network, filmed the Arkansas Rice Festival as part of a documentary. In 2000, the festival was shortened to one day.
The premier event of each Arkansas Rice Festival has always been the free rice-tasting meal with more than 400 rice dishes provided by area residents. Recipes for many of these dishes have been collected into Arkansas Rice Festival cookbooks. During the festival, Weiner’s streets are blocked off to make room for food, crafts, games, carnival rides, and stages with live music and other entertainment. An on-stage opening ceremony begins each festival. Visiting dignitaries have included Governor Bill Clinton, Senator Dale Bumpers, Senator David Pryor, Congressman Bill Alexander, and Congressman E. C. “Took” Gathings. A parade featuring rice-related floats—along with horseback riders, antique cars, and beauty queens—winds through Weiner. Contests have included photography, art, arm wrestling, rice eating, duck calling, lip sync, and a “wiener dog” race. New and old farm equipment is displayed, and farmers demonstrate rice-farming techniques of yesterday, such as rice threshing, binding, and rice sack sewing. Exhibits related to the rice industry are set up inside the Rice Festival Building, which was funded by donations and completed in 1982. The day concludes with a street dance featuring live music.
Arkansas Rice Festival off-site events have included tractor pulls, basketball tournaments, 5K runs, fishing rodeos, and senior citizens’ suppers. A rice cook-off sponsored by Riceland Foods features cash prizes. Festival beauty pageants have been held for all ages, although the original Miss Arkansas Rice Festival Pageant featured contestants above the age of seventeen only. The original pageant crowned a queen to conduct public appearances and a princess to represent Arkansas in the International Rice Pageant at Crowley, Louisiana. An elaborate red velvet Miss Arkansas Rice Festival robe with more than 27,000 beads depicting stalks of rice was hand-sewn for the international competition. On the Sunday following the festival, community members traditionally attend the interdenominational Harvest Worship Service.
A group of women volunteers dubbed the “Rice Festival Ladies” has promoted rice in various ways in conjunction with the festival, including traveling throughout the state and nation preparing a variety of rice dishes. The women have hosted many events with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, which awarded the Arkansas Rice Festival organization a Bootstrap Award in the 1980s. The Rice Festival Ladies have served rice dishes at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC; the commissioning of the USS Arkansas (CGN-41) at Virginia Beach, Virginia; the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee; and a reception for a Chinese trade delegation to the United States.
For additional information:
“Arkansas Rice Festival’s Rice Ladies.” Arkansas Democrat. February 27, 1991, p. 12.
Cortese, James. “Try Coupling Weiner, Rice for a Weekend Menu.” Commercial Appeal. October 13, 1978.
Library of Congress Local Legacies: Arkansas Rice Festival. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/legacies/AR/200002688.html (accessed February 21, 2022).
Ina Raye Hurdle
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