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story.lead_photo.caption Contestants await the 2016 watermelon weigh-off at Old Washington Farmer's Market. Photo by Submitted photo

WASHINGTON, Ark. — As the summer winds down, competing watermelon growers will soon bring mighty melons to the annual Watermelon Weigh-off at Old Washington Farmer's Market.

Held Saturday with the market starting at 8 a.m., the official watermelon weigh-off offers prizes for the largest watermelons with $1,000 awarded to the top three growers. The market is part of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, which establishes venues to weigh fruit and vegetables across the nation.

This event is solely for watermelons, and registration starts at 9.m. for an 11 a.m. weigh-off before the market closes at noon. For anyone interested in seeing these impressive prized melons, this is the right time to visit the market.

Josh Williams of the Watermelon Weigh-Off said this is their tenth year to hold an official weigh-off for watermelons, typically held the last market day, which is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

About the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, Williams said, "They are an official weigh-in station. They have specific rules and guidelines for weighing all varieties of vegetables and fruits, not just pumpkins."

Winners get money for the majestic and mighty melons: $500 for the top watermelon, $300 for second place and $200 for third place.

"It's open to anyone, and we have people that come from all over," Williams said. "When we initially started back in 2011, we had some come from as far away as Georgia. Last year we had a person from Kansas, and Alabama."

Natural State growers, such as the Bright family from Hope, participate.

"We have those from Arkansas, as well, including Lloyd Bright who's come in the past, who is famous locally for at one time he held the record for the world's largest watermelon," Williams said, noting a local contest for growing watermelons really took off decades ago. That helps explain why watermelons are such a big deal here with a watermelon festival.

The soil here in the Hope area is also good for growing watermelons.

"The current world record is now by a gentleman in Tennessee, and I think it's at 350 1/2 (pounds)," Williams said.

Typically, weigh-off watermelons are the Carolina Cross variety. Seed pedigrees are noted in the entries. "They just kind of pamper it," Williams said about how growers treat their watermelons to make them grow so large.

At the official weigh-off, they get around eight to 10 participants at Old Washington Farmer's Market. Serious watermelon growers attend.

Officials conduct various measurements of the watermelon, such as the circumference from side to side and end to end. They get an estimated weight based on size. Subsequently, there's an official weighing with a scale.

"That gives us the official weigh-in. Then that is logged into the international database of Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, which lists all the watermelons being weighed all around the world," Williams said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, masks will be required of everyone at the market. Each farm or team can submit one official entry.

The Old Washington Farmer's Market is situated behind the city hall in Washington, Arkansas, and across the street from Williams' Tavern Restaurant at Historic Washington State Park.

The Old Washington Farmer's Market also encourages area farmers to come out and sell any remaining produce. For more information or to register as a vendor, call 870-703-7892 or email [email protected]

"We'll have our vendors there selling local produce for the farmer's market. Like I said, this is kind of like their last hurrah for the season for the market," Williams said.

Washington, Arkansas, is located eight miles north of U.S. Interstate 30's Exit 30 at Hope.

(For more information on the weigh-off, call Josh Williams at 870-703-8256 or email [email protected])

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