In the end, okra never stood a chance. In a vote Wednesday, the Legislature determined the watermelon is a vegetable, not a fruit. And with a stroke of his pen, Gov. Brad Henry can make it the law of the land — in Oklahoma at least. The measure puts the highly admired watermelon in company with other state emblems such as the American buffalo, the Oklahoma rose, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, and yes, even the state fruit — the beloved strawberry. With the governor's signature, the citrullus lanatus, or watermelon, will be the state vegetable. "Is watermelon a vegetable?” said Grady County watermelon farmer Jack Porter with a chuckle. "Well, I've always considered it a bit fruity. But it works for me.” Porter and his father, Jack L., are among a shrinking contingent of farmers who still grow watermelons in the sandy soil that encircles Rush Springs. In Rush Springs — home to a citrullus lanatus festival since 1948 — the issue is no laughing matter. "No one's laughing at it down here,” said Kathy Petty, a deputy court clerk in Rush Springs. "We think it's pretty cool, actually.” The Senate passed the watermelon bill by a 44-2 vote. "Whether the watermelon is a vegetable or fruit, I'm not sure,” said Brent Pittman, who has farmed watermelons since 1976 in Rush Springs. "Is this serious? Yeah, it's serious. To me, I'm just glad to see the publicity.” Based on the latest statistics released in 2005 by the state Agricultural, Food and Forestry Department, the watermelon was Oklahoma's 14th largest crop. Watermelon farmers planted more than 6,500 acres of watermelon in 2005, netting more than $7 million in gross receipts. Adding a little name recognition as the official state vegetable sure won't hurt.
"It will help spread the word about the watermelon festivals around the state and promote one of our best agricultural products,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. "With the push for agritourism, this ties right in with promotion of these goods and encourages people to visit these festivals. When people visit, they spend money, which contributes to the local coffers. This will help each of the small towns.”
Rush Springs, a town of 1,300 people, is expecting 25,000 to 30,000 visitors for its Aug. 11 watermelon festival.
Valliant also has a watermelon festival, July 20-21, and the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest will be in Pauls Valley on July 4.
Perhaps unimpressed with all the watermelon publicity are folks in Checotah, where the Okrafest is scheduled Sept. 8.
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DID YOU KNOW
In Rush SpringsRep. Joe Dorman said Rush Springs is an ideal location for growing watermelons because of the sandy soil, natural springs and dry summer climate. Seventeen different varieties of watermelon are grown there and sold across the country.
What you said"I grew up thinking tomato was a vegetable only to find out it's a fruit. Am I now am to believe that watermelon is a vegetable? My world could be turned upside down with this information.” Judie, Oklahoma City "Why? Texas' watermelon tastes better than ours. Pick a vegetable that we can actually grow well.” Kevin, Lawton "If you've never had a Rush Springs watermelon in the back yard (where you could just spit the seeds anywhere) on a hot summer evening — you haven't lived! But, fried okra is pretty close. Aren't we lucky to live in Oklahoma?” Deann, Crescent "I think the state vegetable should be our state Senate and House. We pay these guys for this?” Ron, Oklahoma City "I think people around the country will have a good laugh at our expense over this one!” P., Oklahoma City "I think okra would have been a more logical choice. Why the watermelon?” S, The Metro "I think it will make people of this country make fun of Oklahoma even more.” Jennifer, Edmond Sources: watermelon.org; Oklahoma Agriculture Statistics Office; state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department; Mirriam-Webster
BY THE SLICE: A fruit or a vegetable?It's both a fruit and a vegetable, according the dictionary: •Vegetable: Made from, obtained from or containing plants or plant products. •Fruit: The usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant.
Watermelon facts•Scientific name: Citrullus lanatus •Nutrition: A 2-cup serving has 80 calories and no fat. It also provides 30 percent of the vitamin A and 25 percent of the vitamin C needed daily. •State production: Watermelon ranks 14th among Oklahoma commodities, and Oklahoma ranks 12th nationally in watermelon production. In 2005, 6,500 acres of watermelons were planted in Oklahoma, and 72.5 million pounds of watermelons were produced. Sources: watermelon.org; Oklahoma Agriculture Statistics Office; state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department; Mirriam-Webster