Rocky Ford cantaloupe ripe for rehab at Arkansas Valley Fair

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Rocky Ford farmers and growers have spent much of the last year doing damage control, after their melons were wrongly fingered as the cause of a listeria outbreak that actually originated a hundred miles away, at Jensen Farms, and ultimately killed over thirty people. But while doing damage control, they continued to grow cantaloupe, and you can reap the fruits of their labor this weekend.

The growers banded together in the Rocky Ford Growers Association, pouring close to a million dollars into a new warehouse and procedures that push best safety practices. The state chipped in, too, with a $175,000 image campaign for what are now officially known as Rocky Ford Cantaloupes™ .

The trademarked melons will be celebrated at this weekend's 135th Arkansas Valley Fair, the oldest continuous county fair in the state. Among the activities tomorrow, officially deemed Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Day, are a cantaloupe-eating contest with celebrity participants including Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar, state senator Kevin Grantham, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, Crowley County Commissioner Gary Gibson, Rocky Ford Cantaloupe Growers Association Chairman and local grower Michael Hirakata and Otero County Health Department Director Rick Ritter.

Governor John Hickenlooper will make an appearance, too, but likely not for the annual Watermelon Spitting Contest. And, of course, the fair will have its usual horseshoe-pitching contest, a demolition derby and other downhome activities, Find the complete schedule at www.arkvalleyfair.com.

And if you can't make it to the fair, Rocky Ford Cantaloupes™ -- identified by an RFGA sticker -- will be at local stores through the middle of September. But fair warning: The growers only planted 30 percent of their usual crop, unsure what kind of reception their melons would get in the market after last year's listeria hysteria.

Shootings, wildfires: This has not been the year that Governor John Hickenlooper anticipated. Still, there's plenty to celebrate in Colorado -- including the Arkansas Valley Fair. Read more in "John Hickenlooper's bucket list for experiencing Colorado in 2012."

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