Sunday, June 24, 2012

PurpleHull Pea Festival Is Never The Shell Of Its Former Self

(From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

One look at the calendar says it all. Final weekend in June looms. Must be time to pea.

From humble south Arkansas roots, the PurpleHull Pea Festival, arguably the biggest annual festival in Emerson, Ark., is past drinking age now and just keeps getting bigger and better. Good thing because as you’re aware, in the vegetable festival game, you either keep her in high gear all the time or you die on the vine.

Eat, or be eaten.

You know about the PurpleHull Pea Festival and its biggest event – the 200 World Championship Rotary Tiller Race -- because we’ve written about it since 1990 when the Father of the Festival, the since departed Glen Eades of Emerson, looked around and said, “We’re so boring, we don’t even have a cop.”

The seed was planted. An annual happy harvest is the blessed result.

On June 29 and 30 in downtown Emerson and greater Emerson proper, this town of 368 will swell to at least twice that, sort of like people’s bellies. You do not have to know the difference between a black-eyed and a purplehull to attend. You have to know only how to get to Emerson, hard on Hwy. 79 and a tiny piece from Haynesville or, if you are coming in from the north and need a bigger city to gauge distance from, 30ish miles from Mt. Holly.

At, you will find all your informational needs concerning the Peas & Cornbread Cookoff (also reci-peas), the Shelling Competition, the new 2012 Pea-Shirts, the Pea Pageant, the Saturday early afternoon parade, the dance, talent show and arts & crafts fair, the Tiller Girls (“Tiller Personality” is a must), as well as the biggie, The Tiller Thriller, the crown jewel competition during tiller racing season, which is approximately one day long.

A small-town festival with global intentions, the festival even has a facebook page,

Just sayin’.

Oh, it’s huge. The tiller race itself, when grown men and women latch on to souped-up tillers and hang on for dear life and tiller glory down a 200-foot stretch of specially prepared track, has been covered by everything from your network morning news shows to ESPN to “USA Today” to, of course, us.  

Why was I the first outside of Greater Emerson to write about it? Well, I am a pea picker, sheller and eater from way back, my own mother having introduced me as a tot to this particular garden delicacy in Dillon County, S.C., where purplehulls were cheap and easy. When festival Pea-R guy Bill Dailey called me to make his pitch way back in the salad days of 1990, my pea mania was such that I almost pulled a muscle hitting the computer’s “On” key. This year, Lord willing, I finally get to attend the actual festival proper.

I’m all keyed up.

Not to say the festival is perfect. An unfortunate byproduct of the June date has been that too many people were scheduling weddings on Festival Day. Seriously?!

“That always puts the friends and family in a quandary,” Dailey said. “And you hate that they're in that position. What do they do? Attend the wedding, or the PurpleHull Pea Festival & World Championship Rotary Tiller Race? It has to be torment.”

Cooler heads prevailed in 2009 when friends and family were able to do both: a couple was married by the race track.

“And they’re still together,” Dailey said. “Sharing their peas.”