Watermelon Festival committee creates scholarship for young farmers

Watermelon Festival committee creates scholarship for young farmers

CAVE CITY, AR (KAIT) - Organizers of the Cave City Watermelon Festival is working to ensure that the next generation of farmers knows they are supported.

The city is, of course, known for the world's sweetest watermelon but there is some worry among growers that the next generation might not continue it.

Watermelon grower Julie Johnson explains that farming is a common way of life in Sharp County, though.

"We know our kids, a lot of them are going to be in some field of agriculture," Johnson said. "They may want to do like my husband and I did, have a few cows, raise a few watermelon on the side, and have a day job."

The Cave City Watermelon Festival Committee has added a new event this year called The Chad Wooldridge Memorial Pitch Tournament.

It is in honor of a grower who died unexpectedly last June.

The money raised from the tournament will go toward a young farmer scholarship.

"It's just for a young person who wants to enter into farming," Johnson said. "So many scholarships are for kids going to college, this one's not."

And while she understands the money awarded might not go far, she knows anything can help in a career that changes so quickly.

"It may help them plant their first crop, it may help them buy their first cow or make a down payment on a bull, or buy some feed in the winter," Johnson said.

More importantly, she said, it's for the committee to give back to the community.

"And also to let these young people know that there's a small group of people behind them that support them and are going to be their cheerleaders and hopefully this will help them and give them some encouragement," Johnson said.

She said it's important right now as their current watermelon growers age and they are looking at the younger generation to keep the town's legacy alive.

"I think it would be heartbreaking for Cave City to lose that part of their identity of the watermelons so hopefully the scholarship will help in some small way," Johnson said.

One young man is working to do that, though.

Nineteen-year-old Matt Miller worked for Chad Wooldridge for several years, starting when he was about 13.

This is his first year planting his own crop.

"It's gone good but obviously whenever you're new at something you're going to make mistakes but lucky for me I've got a family and local growers," Miller said. "They've helped me out tremendously."

Miller wants to do his part to carry on the family and city tradition because he knows not many people his age are up to the challenges that farming brings.

"One thing is there's no guarantees in it and people like that regular paycheck but I can't imagine anything I'd rather do than this," Miller said.

If you would like to contribute to the scholarship fund, you can send it to P.O. Box 663 in Cave City.

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