- Last Updated on 08:24 AM 01/16/13
- BY Paula I. Bryant
After this weekend’s announcement that “big changes” are coming to the 2013 Virginia Cantaloupe Festival, the public is responding, and the Virginia Cantaloupe Festival Committee is promising to react to some of the suggestions.
On Friday, Festival Committee Chairman Kathy Farley announced that instead of gathering at the Halifax County Fairgrounds on the fourth Friday in July — always one of the hottest Fridays of the entire summer — this year attendees will head to Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center on the first Friday in June.
The 33rd Annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival is scheduled for Friday, June 7, on the resort’s front lawn, and this change has created quite a bit of conversation, to say the least.
Everyone knows that Virginia cantaloupes don’t get ripe until July, so without mature Virginia lopes, how can you call it a Virginia Cantaloupe Festival? some are asking.
Others say the changes are fine, just make one more, now change the name of the festival too.
But that’s not necessary, says Halifax County Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Pool.
The chamber sponsors this event as its major fundraiser each year, and the festival committee vows locally grown melons will still be promoted at this year’s event even if it is held in June.
The annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival has established a reputation for itself over the past 32 years that Nancy and other chamber representatives don’t want to lose by changing the name.
Even though attendees will not be able to eat locally grown melons at this year’s festival, it’s not going to stop them from promoting the locally grown fruit and other local agricultural products in other ways.
One way is to possibly distribute vouchers that can be cashed in for the local lopes later in the summer when they are in season, and another is to extend the celebration into July when a Chamber Business After Hours is being planned to promote the local melons that will be ripe and ready to eat by then.
We give this committee much credit for considering everything that would be said before announcing their decision to change it.
They even tried their best to have locally grown melons available on June 7 by contacting local growers about growing and delivering locally greenhouse grown cantaloupes, but unlike tomatoes, cantaloupe vines are simply too long, and the fruit is too heavy for successful greenhouse growth, they were told.
Virginia Cantaloupe Festival Committee member Nick Long says he’s hoping some local growers out there will prove that greenhouse cantaloupes can be grown because the committee really wants to take that issue off the table by putting locally grown lopes on the table at the festival.
Regardless of whether the locally grown melons are available to eat or not, the need to change things was made abundantly clear over the past few festivals when the community reduced its support significantly and caused the fundraising event not to be as successful as it needs to be for the chamber to meet its annual budget.
“People were voting with their pocketbooks, simply by not buying the cantaloupe festival tickets to support the chamber, presumably because it was too hot or they didn’t enjoy the venue,” Nick said.
Lagging ticket sales combined with last year’s severe storm that caused people to have to be evacuated from the fairgrounds to the grandstand and delayed the festival a few hours was the deal sealer for the committee.
Something had to be done.
The committee is trying to make the festival an even better event, and the negative feedback is not totally unexpected.
But Nancy and other festival committee members remind those voicing opposition to the changes to first give them a chance.
“Upfront, I promise you that the people who make up the Virginia Cantaloupe Festival committee will react to your suggestions…and actually…they already have reacted to a few of the suggestions. Furthermore, this committee encourages your feedback and welcomes your involvement,” Nick said. “I do know this committee will react, and then act and then if we need to – react again.”
Nancy encourages anyone wanting to offer suggestions to personally contact her.
“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,” she said.
Both Nancy and Nick encourage the community to give the changes a chance by joining them on Berry Hill’s front lawn on June 7 to support the chamber, because after all, this is what the Virginia Cantaloupe Festival is all about.
By supporting the chamber, you support the local and regional business community and this in turn supports the community as a whole.
Ticket sales will be limited to 1,500 this year, and they go on sale for $35 to the general public April 1.
So get your tickets early.