Family-friendly fun is ripe for the picking at the Crystal Springs Tomato Festival. You’ll have a ball painting the town red at the lively summer event held in the tiny Mississippi community that garnered the nickname, “Tomatopolis of the World.” Eat and drink while painted or dressed up as the luscious vitamin C-packed fruit at the two-day celebration which elevates the humble tomato to new heights.
Preserving the Past
You won’t find a jar big enough to contain the excitement generated by the Crystal Springs Tomato Festival. The normally sleepy town bleeds red during its annual homage to the juicy fruit, traditionally held on the last weekend in June. Drive 20 minutes southwest of Jackson, and you’ll score a front row seat to all of the action. In addition, you will learn how the tomato festival is deeply rooted in Crystal Springs’ agricultural past. The entire town was once involved in tomato planting, harvesting and canning, with such high volume of tomatoes packed and shipped via rail car that it earned the title "Tomato Capital of the World." This accolade generated a festive atmosphere which prevailed during harvest season. Residents celebrated their homegrown "hero" with parades, bands and massive picnics. Decades later, the tomato tribute continues, but with modern-day touches.
Go Big Red
Head to Crystal Springs Tomato Festival with an appetite and you’ll leave with a new appreciation for the robust orb. The southern event allows you to sample a collection of unique tomato concoctions. Dig into tomato grits, fried green tomato sandwiches and savory tomato basil pie. All dishes featured at the festival are made with Crystal Springs’ plumpest tomatoes. Let the recipes inspire you, then learn the secret behind their mouthwatering appeal. Locals credit the superior quality of their tomatoes to organic growing methods and to the love for the fruit that put their town on the map. The festival also hosts contests for the biggest, ugliest, prettiest and tastiest tomatoes.
Not Just Tomatoes
You don’t have to be a tomato connoisseur to appreciate the revelry surrounding the weekend shindig. The festival also includes a Tomato Queen contest, bike rally, farmers’ market, 5k fun run, games, rides, live music, outdoor dance party, antique show, flea market and a Saturday afternoon barbecue. Other food vendors are also on hand to keep you energized during the event. A colorful kiddie parade is powered by pint-sized participants riding scooters, tricycles, bicycles, wagons and toy tractors. Children are encouraged to decorate their vehicles with red embellishments in honor of the festival’s star produce.
More to Sink Your Teeth Into
Take a trip back in time by visiting Crystal Springs’ Tomato Museum in the Chautauqua Park Visitor's Center. The festival’s art contest takes place here, but you’re not limited to admiring painted entries. The free museum -- open year round Monday through Friday -- also houses exhibits depicting the glory days of tomato production. View historic photos, original canning labels and antique tomato harvesting tools and machinery, along with memorabilia from past tomato festivals.
Article reprinted from USA Today Travel by Michele Wanke