Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival
The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival celebrates the pink tomato industry in southeastern Arkansas. Originally a one-day event, it has become a weeklong celebration that attracts approximately 30,000 people each year.
In June 1956, the first Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival was held in Warren (Bradley County). Loran Johnson, who was director of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, was one of the founders of the festival. The one-day event included musicians, a carnival, and exhibits. Each year, a chairperson of the festival was chosen. A parade and beauty pageant were added the second year.
Another festival event began after Jean Frisby, who was the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service (UACES) home economist for Bradley County, and Loran Johnson, who was serving as the county extension agent, gathered with other people in celebration of the festival in the Southern Hotel on the town’s square; young women who ran for Tomato Queen that year were also crowded into the un-air-conditioned hotel. This inspired Frisby to establish a more proper event for the next year: the All Tomato Luncheon held in Warren’s Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building. Approximately twenty-five guests attended the first luncheon. The next year, the extension homemakers planned for the same number of attendees, but more than 100 people arrived. The luncheon, which served fresh tomato juice to waiting guests in the lobby, frequently featured a speaker who represented the UA Cooperative Extension Service in appreciation for that organization’s role in the county’s tomato production.
Other events, such as an auction, were added to the festival over the years. The street dance is a longtime tradition, and each weekend night of the festival, crowds gather at the town square to enjoy live entertainment. Saturday morning features 5K races, and the parade soon follows, which includes pageant winners, horse riders, politicians, and firefighters. A popular event held after the parade is the tomato-eating contest, which often has local and state politicians as contestants.
For additional information:
Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival. http://www.bradleypinktomato.com/ (accessed October 13, 2021).
Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, 1956–2006. Kearney, NE: Morris Press Cookbooks, 2006.
Leah Forrest Sexton
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