Arkansas Weekend Celebrations Centered on Homegrown Goodness

Scripture says the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles was a harvest feast, a colorful and joyous time drawing great throngs to Jerusalem where all would enter carrying a piece of fruit. They called it “the season of our gladness.” More than 2,000 years later, many Arkansans recognize the bounty of the state’s largest industry in similar ways. Agriculture drives Arkansas’ economy and it’s celebrated on summer weekends with fruit festivals. Below are a few favorites to visit.

Cabot Strawberry Festival (May 2-4)

Bright red, juicy and delicious! Taste and purchase fresh strawberries while taking in a carnival, pageant, kid zone, 5k and more. The 20th annual festival focuses on family fun and promoting local businesses, but its stars are Lonoke County strawberry growers. The Junior Auxiliary of Cabot has grown it to one of the state’s most popular festivals with multiple food booths and 120 exhibitors.

Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival (Jun 14-15)

One of Arkansas’ longer running festivals returns for a 68th year. Pink tomatoes first sold commercially in Bradley County in the early 1920s when cotton became less profitable. Tomatoes are characterized as a pink breed when the skin is translucent, and the interior looks more pink than red once mature. This ‘world famous’ event always happens the second full weekend of June (including a Friday) in the “Land of Tall Pines and Pink Tomatoes.” There is a tomato eating contest and “Great Bowls of Fire” salsa contest, pageants, truck and car show, and live music both nights.

Johnson County Peach Festival (July 18-20)

Arkansas’ longest running festival started in 1938 and has only missed a few years due to wars and Covid. Peach Pickin’ Paradise, a local farm in Lamar, provides most of the peaches for the festival at the Clarksville Courthouse Square or you can pick your own at the orchard. There will be a peach eating contest, peach pit-spitting contest, a parade, multiple pageants (Baby Peach, Petite Peach, Princess Elberta) and lots of live music, featuring the Kentucky Headhunters on Saturday night. Festival president Milisa Woodard tells us the greased-pig chase on Saturday morning is her favorite event.

Cave City Watermelon Festival (July 25-27)

This festival started in the very hot, dry summer of 1980 with 2,400 attendees, including Gov. Bill Clinton. The weather had made melons hard to find but a grower named Herschel Runsick, who planted his in the nearby Strawberry River bottoms, produced enough for that first free feast presented by the Chamber of Commerce. The festival has expanded to three days with up to 10 area growers supplying “the world’s sweetest watermelons.” Catfish dinners, pancake breakfasts, talent shows, watermelon judging contests, 5k runs, ice cream making contests, car shows and local entertainment fill the weekend. Grab a lawn chair, lift a slice of melon and let the juice roll down to your elbows.

Altus Grape Festival (July 26-27)

The 41st annual will include traditional attractions at Altus City Park, but just easing by the beautiful vineyards makes it worth the drive. If you take exit 41 off I-40, you’ll see rows of grapes on rolling hills and a majestic, Romanesque church built with stone in 1902. There will be a grape stomp at the festival, live music, food and beverage competitions, including an amateur wine competition with lots of taste testing. The wine industry has driven the Altus (population 662) economy since 1872. It is an official U.S. viticultural (wine growing) area.

Hope Watermelon Festival (Aug. 8-10)

It dates to the mid-1920s when close to 20,000 attended a one-day event and farmers sold ice-cold, giant melons (weighing close to 200 pounds) to passengers on the many trains that stopped in Hope. It became an annual event in the 1970s and is now a three-day celebration featuring chilled melons sold whole or by the slice. There will be close 150 arts and crafts booths from six states, dozens of food vendors, a car show, entertainment and other family-oriented activities like a melon-toss and seed-spitting contest.