Rocky Ford cantaloupe ripe for celebration at the Arkansas Valley Fair

What's your favorite homegrown fruit? Those tart cherries that inspired the Tree Line, Marnie Ward's winning Colorado cocktail? The juicy peaches that will be celebrated at the Palisade Peach Festival this weekend? Or the beleaguered Rocky Ford cantaloupe, wrongly fingered last year as the cause of a listeria outbreak that actually originated a hundred miles away, at Jensen Farms, and ultimately killed over thirty people?

Farmers and growers in Rocky Ford have spent much of the last year doing damage control -- and you can taste the fruit of their labors 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 seed-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.

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