At first blush, “celebrating agricultural heritage” doesn’t really sound like the most fun way to spend a weekend in Colorado. But throw in Rocky Ford watermelon-seed spitting, Palisade peach-inspired cocktails and Olathe sweet-corn-eating contests, and things take a decidedly more interesting turn.
Many of Colorado’s communities have summer festivals dedicated to the crops that have been increasing the profile of the state’s farm-to-table restaurants. Our chief specialty is fruit — Colorado’s warm days and cool summer nights mean everything grows a little bit sweeter than it would at warmer climes. Below are some of the festivals, spectacles and events that make tasting Colorado fun and delicious.
What started as a picnic to celebrate the Glenwood Springs area’s strawberry harvest and meet new neighbors 114 years ago has grown into a full-on strawberry-themed pageant with a parade, a juried arts-and-crafts fair, old-fashioned carnival, live music, a farmers’ market and free strawberries and ice cream, a tradition that’s held since the very beginning.
When you hear the following words, nothing that comes after will matter: cherry cobbler cook-off. We can’t imagine needing anything else from cherry days, but Paonia piles the festivities high with an art walk, children’s carnival, “Paonia’s Got Talent” contest (get out your baton-twirling outfit!), Ute Trails Car Club show, a wine class, July Fourth parade and much more.
No place in the world is more closely associated with rhubarb than … well, no one’s really closely associated with rhubarb. That it can grow at extreme altitudes is chief reason Silvertonians, who find themselves at 9,318 feet, devoted an event to this un-celebrated plant. With an impressive fireworks display, parade, water fight, Silverton Brass Band performances, ice cream social, and all the rhubarb treats — mostly centered around the pie arts — you can handle.
The corn from Olathe is often described as melt-in-your-mouth tender. A slathering of butter would only compromise what Colorado’s sun and soil have already perfected. Find out what makes people speak so rapturously about it at the festival’s sweet-corn-eating contest. And afterward, while you’re putting all those toothpicks to good work, enjoy concerts by The Guess Who and Aaron Tipton, a monster fireworks display and a classic car show.
Part of the Arkansas Valley Fair, this special day in Rocky Ford honors that sweetest of all melons with a 10K run, a watermelon-seed-spitting contest (you’ve been on the amateur circuit for years — it’s time to go pro!), watermelon carving, a bingo tournament and a famous “watermelon pile,” from which you can take a few free melons to slurp from on the way home.
Much like Olathe’s sweet corn, Palisade’s peaches have been known to inspire gastric poetry, memorable limericks and devotional dances. Best described as drip-down-your-chin juicy, the perfect peach is celebrated at this festival in all its incarnations. Restaurants deck out their menus with libations, desserts and other peachy dishes. Peach-lovers revel in the fun with orchard and vineyard tours, peach-eating contests and loading as many bushels as possible into their trunks.
This harvest celebration honoring the stalwart potato dates back to 1909 and now serves to ring in fall in Carbondale with a 5K Tator/Fossil Trot, farmers’ market, live music, horseshoe tournament, a bareback horse-riding competition and an infamous Potato Day Parade with dance troupes, trick horses and marching bands. A community barbecue picnic features, of course, baked potatoes and locally raised beef brisket roasted in fire pits.
Most people probably wouldn’t be able to identify a sugarbeet if one smacked them in the face. But in the Front Range town of Mead, this tuber is revered. To ring in its harvest, the local Rotary Club and community foundation hold tractor pulls, a farm-toy auction, harvest tours, a skillet throw and hay-bale toss, face painting and a petting zoo.
This event is your best chance to taste of pride of Pueblo: a special, intensely flavorful variety of green chile. Served smoking on a stick, chopped and tucked into a quesadilla or sprinkled in salsa, it’s the star of this show. Cooking competitions, live music, dancing, arts and crafts, and a farmers’ market round out the festivities.
Driving into Cedaredge, you’ll pass row after heavenly row of trees bursting with shiny red and green apples beckoning you to sink your teeth in — and pick one up for the ol’ teacher, “Leave it To Beaver”-style. At Applefest, more than 150 vendors share the area’s agricultural wealth with visitors, who can also check out a classic car and antique tractor show, bands and much more.
Another small town, Penrose, has an apple fest of its own on in early October, with a parade, pie-eating contest and the annual choosing of the town’s Apple Dumplings (that is, the cutest kids in Penrose).