The 66th annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival came in with a bang long before the last fireworks exploded.
Hurricane-strength winds blew through the Arts and Crafts shed where over 80 vendors were assembled, sending tables flying and torrential rain. Booths were literally ripped apart but the vendors soon recovered. Several tents with other vendors around the courthouse square were also flattened. Several trees were uprooted and tree branches came crashing down, with some power outages and even phone disruptions at Warren Police Department.
A brief rain shower also greeted the beginning of the parade on Saturday, soaking contestants. The rain showers sent temperatures plummeting only to turn steamy in the afternoon.
To show that this was truly a countywide festival, Mayor Denisa Pennington of Warren, Mayor Tonya Kendrix of Hermitage and Mayor Keeton Hudson of Banks rode together in the parade. Hudson served as second vice chairman of the festival and chairman of the Steak Cookoff. Pennington and Kendrix attended the All-Tomato Luncheon. Mayor Pennington introduced guests.
Also attending the luncheon were Warren City Council members Joel Tolefree and Emily Moseley.
But the show went on and large crowds were on hand for all the activities, including the carnival and entertainers including Boots Bailey and the Boys, Jubilation Jazz, Mary Heather Hickman and David Lee Murphy.
After pageants in Hermitage on June 4, the Warren Lions Club Gospel Jamboree brought The Lisemby Family to Immanuel Baptist Church on Thursday. About 75 people attended a concert of approximately two hours.
The Tomato Packing Contest was held Friday.
- Eight and under: Laynie Spraggins, first; Emma Smith, second; Branton Smith, third.
- 9-14: Kaden Hammer, first; Luke Webb, second; Jenna Scroggins, third.
- 15-19: Kaylee Nichols, first; Weston Gavin, second; Delfino Rivera, third.
- Adult: Anna Wegelin, first; Cindy Norris, second; Gail Thompson, third.
Great Bowls of Fire Salsa Contest winners were Lauren Bryant, best looking; Holley McVay, best tasting; and Emmanuel Castillo, hottest.
On Saturday, Tomato Eating Contest celebrities included Bryan Sanders for his wife, gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was also present; state Land Commissioner Tommy Land; District 94 state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw and his opponent, Curley Jackson; state Sen. Ben Gilmore; Jessie Gibson, running for attorney general; Miss Pink Tomato Kaiden Hale; Teen Miss Pink Tomato Alli Cathey; and Pam Whittaker, running for state treasurer.
The winner was Wardlaw; Gilmore, second; and Sanders, third.
In 12 and under, winners were Edie Gauge, first; Harley Caldwell, second; and Judson Green, third.
Professional winners were Cody Gauge, first; Adam Towery, second; and Earl Charles, third.
The All-Tomato Luncheon returned to First Baptist Church, presented by Bradley County Extension Homemakers Council.
County Judge Klay McKinney kicked off the event by saying, “Don’t it feel good to get back to where we used to be?”
The Rev. John Gaskin gave the invocation. Wardlaw served as master of ceremonies. Warren Mayor Denisa Pennington introduced guests. Festival Chairwoman Brooke Hatch introduced past festival chairs.
Extension Service Staff Chairman John Gavin introduced Chuck Culver, interim vice president, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “This is one of the iconic festivals of the South,” Culver said.
Gilmore introduced U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman. “Tomatoes make me happy. The world needs more tomatoes,” Westerman said. He referred to drought conditions in California that have decimated canning tomato crops there, suggesting that Bradley County could look at planting canning tomatoes along with its other tomato crops.
Land said he remembered the first Tomato Eating Contest he had participated in. “We live in the greatest nation on Earth. Arkansas is the best place to live. Arkansas is full of good people,” he said.
Gavin recognized Bradley County Farm Families of the Year from 2022, Jason and Laura West; 2021, Jacob and Jamie Courtney; and 2020, Josh and Krystle Hays.
A quilt made by Bradley Block Builders was given away to Darwin Tiner. The giveaway benefitted Bradley County Medical Center Health Foundation, with Chairwoman Sue Martin.
The first box of tomatoes was auctioned off for a scholarship fund. Thomas Frazer submitted the winning bid of $2,600. Tony Cathey was the auctioneer.
A heavenly tomato cake was auctioned off to help Extension Homemakers. Wardlaw and Gilmore submitted the winning bid of $1,700. They returned the cake for another auction, with Leah St. John submitting the winning bid of $1,000.
Extension Agent-Family and Consumer Sciences Michelle Carter gave closing remarks and noted statewide, 3,000 Extension Homemakers provided more than 2 million meals to help with food insecurity. Extension Homemakers also gave more than 2,000 volunteer hours valued at $8 million.
Judy Simmons was honored for chairing the All-Tomato Luncheon for 30 years, although she is retiring after this year.
Next up was the Little Miss Pink Tomato Pageant held at Immanuel Baptist Church. JeNelle Lipton and Glenda Cross have chaired this event for more than 50 years. Payton Sledge was the mistress of ceremonies.
Maisyn Elle Milton was crowned the winner; Londyn Rose Wiggins, first runner-up; and Zoamori Farmer, second runner-up.
Steak Cookoff Tomato Appetizer winners were Mike Kimbrell, Vilonia, first; Jason Hobbs, Monticello, second; John Lindsey, Jonesboro, third; Brent Howard, Mountain View, fourth; Carie Green, Junction City, fifth; Robert Perkins, Vilonia, sixth; B.J. Green, Carlisle, seventh; and Frank Davis, Bismarck, eighth.
Steak Cookoff winners were B.J. Green, Carlisle, first ($1,000); Brent Howard, Mountain View, second; Jason Hobbs, Monticello, third; John Lindsey, Jonesboro, fourth; Paul Dosier, Sheridan, fifth; Carie Green, Junction City, sixth; Shannon Earnst, Benton, seventh; John Green, Junction City, eighth; Robert Perkins, Vilonia, ninth; and Randy Mooney, Sparkman, 10th.
Results of the Cutest Baby Contest, Car Show and 5K Run/Walk were not immediately available. Chairpersons of those events are asked to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several other local entertainers also appeared, including magician Derrick Rose. Many food vendors and a Kids Zone were also popular. Tours were available at Bradley County Veteran’s Museum and Bradley County Historical Museum. DJ Jam-a-Lot and the Hispanic DJ also provided music.