BY KELLY GOOCH

 

The public soon will find out which town has the best tomatoes — Jacksonville or Crystal Springs, Miss.

Both communities will challenge each other on the KTBS TV station morning show Wednesday in Shreveport, La.

There will be several categories — best tasting, best plate of three and largest tomato — and one winner, said Peggy Renfro, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Tomato Fest Chairman Robin Butt said the winner will be chosen by five judges — one from Jacksonville, another from Crystal Springs and three from Shreveport. According to a news release, Cherokee County Court At Law Judge Craig Fletcher will serve as the judge from Jacksonville, and local farmer David Claiborne is growing the Jacksonville tomatoes.

Various Jacksonville supporters, including Butt, Mayor Kenneth Melvin, 2013 chamber board chairman Brett Brewer, Cherokee County Precinct 4 Commissioner Bryon Underwood, the Jacksonville Tomato Mascot and others will be on hand for the challenge, according to a news release. Crystal Springs also is slated to have supporters there.

The idea for the competition initially came about after a woman on the Crystal Springs Beautification Committee contacted the Jacksonville chamber about the town's concrete tomatoes, Ms. Renfro said in April.

She has said that reminded her that there was something in the history books about a tomato association between the towns.

According to the book, "The Hills of Cherokee," the Cherokee County tomato industry shares a link to peaches as well as Mississippi.

"Shipments of peaches brought American Refrigeration Transit Co. officials to Jacksonville," the book reads. "Finding soil and climate similar to that of Crystal Springs, Miss., the tomato center with which they were familiar, they urged Jacksonville farmers to capitalize their experience in peach shipping and enter the tomato business."

The book goes on to state that two brothers-in-law became acquainted with an ex-Mississippian, who grew tomatoes for shipment. The two men were "amazed by his season's returns in 1896 (and were) determined to sell the tomato idea to their home-folks," according to the book.

Years passed, and in 1917, Jacksonville is described as "the center of a circle with an 8-mile radius producing 90 percent of all the tomatoes shipped from Texas."

In addition to this history, Ms. Renfro has said she saw that Crystal Springs had a Tomato Festival in June as well.

Both towns eventually agreed on a competition.

And now, it is up to the judges.

"I have full confidence we're going to end up winning that one," Crystal Springs Mayor Sally Garland said in April. "We've got people who say our tomatoes are the best. There's nothing to compare. You can tell when it's time for our tomatoes to come in."

Ms. Renfro said Thursday, "We're just looking forward to it. We've had a lot of fun with this. We feel like Jacksonville will be coming home the winner."

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