Tomato Time - Warren festival schedule bursting with small-town flavor

People who aren’t from Bradley County may view tomatoes as just another fruit — or is it a vegetable? But the upcoming 58th annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival is an exciting time for those who live in the area and beyond.

“The festival is the staple of our community,” said David King, executive director at the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s our time to celebrate and be identified as the tomato capital of the world.”

The festival officially started on Thursday, June 5, with The Grand Tomato Ball, but the main attractions began this week in downtown Warren, with events and contests concluding Saturday night with a firework show.

Most of the events are free, and on Friday there will be arts and crafts, a quilt show and a mobile aquarium sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission all on display. Later in the day there will be turtle races (for you action junkies), bands, dances, a comedy and magic show, the cutest baby contest for children ages 6 months to 3 years and a Great Bowls of Fire salsa contest.

“The turtle races are huge,” King said. “We’ll have anywhere from 130 to 150 turtles racing on the main stage there in downtown.”

Saturday morning starts off slow with the Pink Tomato Festival 5k Walk beginning at 7 a.m. and then quickly picks up speed with the Pink Tomato Festival 5k Run at 7:30 a.m.

At 8 a.m. the Pink Tomato Festival High School Baseball Benefit Tournament for children ages 12 and under at the Warren city complex, a swim meet at Donald W. Reynolds YMCA and a dog show at the old armory at the city park will get underway.

There will also be an antique car show, the Pink Tomato Parade, a tomato-eating contest and an art festival later Saturday morning.

“There are two categories for the tomato-eating contest: one with the beauty queens and politicians — it’s a terrible mix, I know — and one for the big boys,” King said. “The winners will probably end up eating 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes.”

At 12:30 p.m. the 57th annual All Tomato Luncheon will be held at the First Baptist Church Activities Center. King said there will be a tomato product in each item served, including tomato-stuffed chicken breast with mashed potatoes, tomato green beans, rolls with a tomato topping and a heavenly tomato cake. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased from the Bradley County Chamber of Commerce or the Bradley County Extension Office.

At 1 p.m. a new event will be introduced to the festival: a bacon, lettuce and tomato bowl cook-off.

The 2014 Little Miss Pink Tomato Pageant will start at 2:30 p.m. at the Warren Cultural Center. All 10 contestants participating in the 50-year-old, historic pageant are either from Bradley County or the surrounding counties of Ashley, Calhoun, Dallas, Drew, Lincoln, Union and Jefferson — “all counties that produce tomatoes,” said Glenda Cross, co-director of the pageant.

“The contestants will walk across the stage individually and come back as a group,” Cross said. “The winner will be awarded a crown, trophy, flowers and a cash prize by last years’ winner Alli Cathey.”

Singer/songwriter Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder will take to the stage in downtown Warren at 8:30 p.m., the last event of the festival before the firework show draws the 2014 Pink Tomato Festival to a close.

“The concert is free,” King said. “All you got to do is bring a lawn chair.”

According to the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival website, each year more than 30,000 people come to the festival. Every Arkansas governor since 1958 has attended the festival and in 1987 Arkansas Legislature designated the tomato as the official state fruit and vegetable — hopefully, that answers the fruit or vegetable debate.