Gardening is enjoying a surge in popularity due to the economy, the price of gas, and an increasing concern by consumers about the origin of the foods they eat. However, just like any pursuit, gardening has its competitive side. For some hardcore growers, gardening isn’t just about growing some tasty tomatoes and squash. Instead, they are locked in a race to produce the largest fruits or vegetables the world has ever seen.
In Hope, Arkansas, home to the world’s largest watermelons and the annual Watermelon Festival, a watermelon is not a watermelon unless it weighs at least 100lbs – and that’s a small one.
President Bill Clinton said, “It doesn’t matter what Huckabee and I accomplish in life, we’ll always rate third at best in Hope behind watermelons and Bowie knives.” Clinton and Governor Mike Huckabee are Hope’s favorite sons.
When it comes to growing the famous Hope watermelons, Lloyd Bright is the hometown hero. Correction, a world-renown watermelon growing superhero.
In 1973, Lloyd and his father Ivan grew their first watermelon that was large enough to enter in the Hope Big Watermelon Contest. They took first place with their 135-pound watermelon and continued to win the Hope contest for several years. “My dad did not hunt or fish, but he liked to garden, so we gardened. It was something we did together and really enjoyed,” said Lloyd. They then began collecting the equipment needed to grow and handle large watermelons, and grow they did!
In 1979, Ivan Bright grew a then world record 200-pound watermelon on their farm. Six years later, Lloyd’s ten-year-old son Jason produced a behemoth weighing in at 260 pounds! Then, in 2005, Lloyd grew the biggest of them all, a 268.8-pound monster that was officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
When you talk to Lloyd about his watermelon dynasty, not only do you hear about the dynamics of growing giant watermelons, but you hear how his hobby created a strong family bond and memories that will last a lifetime. He and his wife Susan raised two boys; Richard, an attorney in Arkadelphia, and Jason, an optometrist in Bryant. Their weekends and summers growing up were filled with go-carting and 4-wheelin’ through the cow pasture and tending to their prize winning melons with their dad and grandfather. “My dad has always done things the right way, he takes pride in hard work and has been dedicated to the watermelon heritage of Hope, Arkansas, but most of all, he taught us that anything is possible, that a 10-year-old kid can make the Guinness Book of World Records if he works hard and is committed to excellence,” said Jason Bright.
The secret to successfully growing giant watermelons and children are good seed, soil and growing conditions, and lots of hard work. As Lloyd and Susan look back on their life, they can be proud of their success with both.
Again, thank you to Arkansas Farm Bureau for allowing me to share my love and support of Arkansas farmers in their publication, Front Porch. Did you know that Agriculture accounts for almost 25 percent of Arkansas’ economy? Hop over to their site and check out the many wonderful features on the Arkansans that are putting food on our table and clothes on our backs.