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Big changes coming to Cantaloupe Festival

Big changes are coming to the 2013 Virginia Cantaloupe Festival. Not only will the festival be moving its location, but the date also is changing, Cantaloupe Festival Chairman Kathy Farley announced Friday.

Instead of gathering at the Halifax County Fairgrounds on the fourth Friday in July, attendees will be heading to The Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center on the first Friday in June. 

The 33rd Annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival is scheduled for Friday, June 7, at the Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center.

“The celebration will continue to focus on the world’s best cantaloupes although market fresh melons will be served which everyone enjoys until the Halifax melons are available for harvest,” Farley said.

 “This change has created a lot of excitement. Our idea is to kick-off the summer and celebrate early before the weather gets too hot,” Farley said.  “Although cantaloupe is a crop that matures in July, we agreed to not let that stop us from changing the date and hosting a great event for our community.”

Ticket sales will be limited to only 1,500 and will go on sale to the general public on April 1. A sell out is anticipated, according to Farley.

In past years, more than 1,500 tickets have been available for sale, but attendance has been trending down, and chamber officials said they are hoping that by limiting the number of tickets available, this year’s event will indeed be a sale out. 

Rooms at Berry Hill for the night of the festival are being incorporated into sponsorship packages. The chamber has contracted the whole facility. If any are available after sponsorships, they will be offered for sale to ticket purchasers. 

As an added incentive, anyone who buys tickets online at www.valopefest.com between April 1 and April 30 will be entered into a drawing to win a room for the night of the festival, one entry for every ticket. 

The drawing will take place on May 1, the festival chairman added.

To complete the celebration, a Chamber Business After Hours is being planned for July when the local melons are ripe and ready for consumption. 

Although all the details are not finalized, it will be an event where the “delicious local cantaloupes” will be available and celebrated. 

According to festival organizers, the two biggest complaints about past festivals have been the heat and the location. 

“Understandably it has not been the same since it moved from John Wade’s Farm. There always seemed to be a breeze in the pine trees out there. It may have been the setting. We believe that Berry Hill is the perfect location to accommodate the essential elements to which we must adhere and still have the ambience people like,” said Halifax County Chamber President Nancy Pool who has been around for every festival since the inaugural event in Turbeville in 1981.

“We are thrilled to move it to Berry Hill. Why not celebrate one of the county’s greatest products at one of the county’s greatest treasures?” asked Farley. “We have been unable to replicate the pristine setting of John Wade’s farm and have been hearing about it for years. Berry Hill offers the ambience that has been missing.” 

The Virginia Cantaloupe Festival has garnered a good reputation, and the chamber does not want to lose that recognition. Halifax County is noted far and wide for its delicious cantaloupes. The festival will continue to promote the melons and other crops that have been staples for years, Pool maintained. 

Local cantaloupe grower J. Hudson Reese of Scottsburg supports the change.

“I don’t have a comment. It won’t affect us one way or the other. They won’t have local cantaloupes in June, but it will give us an opportunity to promote local cantaloupes. I understand why they did it, and it’s no big deal. I feel like it was something that they needed to do to rejuvenate it, and maybe this will help,” Reese said.

In an effort to promote local cantaloupes, Pool said the chamber is looking at providing vouchers that can be cashed in for local lopes later in the summer when they are in season, and she points to a different type of Business after Hours event scheduled to be held in July to promote the cantaloupe producers and other local growers.

 “Coles Berry Farm grows fabulous blackberries and other berries that have been served at the festival with locally grown watermelons and other fruits,” Farley added.

The Virginia Cantaloupe Festival is the major fundraiser for the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce that depends heavily on its profits to carry out its mission. 

Pool said the annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival has established a reputation for itself over the past 32 years that chamber officials do not want to lose by making changes to the name of the event.

However, she believes the changes in time and location needed to be made.

Even though the people will not be able to eat locally grown melons at this year’s festival, it will not stop the event from promoting the locally grown cantaloupes and other local agricultural products in other ways.

“We plan to continue to promote Halifax County at the Cantaloupe Festival,” the chamber president continued.

And for those who don’t like the changes being announced, Pool asked they not blame members of the cantaloupe committee.

“I take full responsibility for this personally. It hurts to the core to see them (committee members) get blamed for making changes, because they are some of the hardest working and passionate people involved with this festival. If people want to offer feedback, direct it to me, not committee members,” she said.

The chamber is a pro-business, pro-economic development organization with a membership of approximately 400 enterprises. It is a private, not-for-profit organization that advocates for and promotes members and engages in public policy debate and decisions that impact member businesses and organizations, Halifax County and the Commonwealth of Virginia. It focuses on the economic vitality and stainability of Halifax County, the chamber president said. 

She noted that last year the chamber was unable to meet its budget on the revenue side partially due to poor attendance at the cantaloupe festival that prompted these changes to be made.

“I know for the last few years our biggest complaints about poor attendance has been the heat and location. People can’t get over us not being at John Wade’s farm,” she added.

After last year’s terrible wind and rainstorm at the beginning of the festival that was devastating, Pool said, “Something had to be done.

“Last year’s really severe storm right at the time of the start of the festival caused EMS to evacuate people to the grandstand area and delayed the festival a few hours. The temperatures were just horrible, and the only way to address that is to change the date. It’s better to change the date and take less chance of putting people in peril of another severe storm,” she explained.

Pool said she is aware it can storm the first of June too, but the chances are fewer.

“We had to weigh the benefits and risks and make a decision,” she added.

The chamber’s business is to promote member businesses, and Pool said she and other staff members plan to continue advocating on their behalf.

“The chamber keeps a finger on the pulse of activities, and where action is needed, the chamber is there. No other organization has this mission and role to represent the business community,” said Pool. “I am proud to work for such an active and engaged organization that does not back down from challenges.”