A town goes global thanks to the cowpea
Aug 18, 2013 | 1075 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Charleston’s globalization is entering its second big year and it’s all being made possible by the tiniest of hidden treasures; that is, an inconspicuous little legume that packs more protein than a bodybuilder’s morning shake.

We speak, of course, of the docile cowpea.

Some might be surprised to know Bradley County’s second largest city is less than a month away from celebrating the second annual International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off presented by Bush Brothers and Company.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, folks from miles around and far-away states will descend upon the Charleston City Park for a day of fun, food, pageantry, talented musicians, photography exhibits and chefs, both professional and amateur.

Head counts from last year’s festivities are anybody’s best bet, but organizers do know that “thousands” showed up for the good times, the good eats and the good fellowship.

Nothing’s different from this year’s shindig.

Grammy Award winner Billy Dean is the confirmed, onstage show stopper. The country musician’s concert is being made possible by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’ll take the stage at about 6:30 p.m.

Warming up the audience will be the Collins Brothers Band, courtesy of Companion Funeral & Cremation Services. Dean and Collins will round out a day of talent which is sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Throughout the day, the festival will feature musical artists, comedy and storytelling from the Cleveland Storytelling Guild sponsored by Resolute Forest Products. A marketplace, sponsored by Crown of Cleveland, will offer booths featuring arts and crafts, fresh produce and other goods. Food vendors will have concessions available. Booths displaying agricultural tidbits as well as heritage information telling Charleston’s nationally significant history will be part of the festival. A Family Fun Field is sponsored by Olin and will feature games, art projects, face painting and air toys. The festival website www.cowpeafestival.com includes information on activities and is being updated with more scheduled items on a daily basis.

Area residents from our own Bradley County hometown community are invited to drop in on the cowpea craze, but they’ll likely be joined by a throng of visitors from the outside as well — folks who have heard of the doins from afar, but who haven’t quite figured out the mystique of the miniscule cowpea.

All are welcome to participate in the cook-off portion of the event sponsored by Whirlpool Corporation. Professional and amateur chef divisions are available for entries using any variety of cowpea.

Cowpea creations in the amateur chef division will be judged by a panel while the professional chef division will be judged by the first 600 people who purchase a souvenir spoon for $5. Spoon-holders are entitled to tasting samples from the five professional chefs as well as door prize tickets. Whirlpool is bringing five gas ranges for on-site cooking demonstrations in the park. Details on entering the three categories of the amateur cook-off are available at www.cowpeafestival.com.

For those not in the know, “cowpea” is the general name for the crowder pea, black-eyed pea, cream pea, silver-hull and other field pea varieties. For those inclined to detail, these groups are known as “vigna unguiculata.”

The festival’s roots are short on tenure (only two years), but long on history. Because of the vast number of families who once farmed these legumes — to feed themselves and their livestock — Charleston was once known as the “Cowpea Capital of the United States.”

Organizers are still hard at work putting together the Sept. 14 cowpea bash. Honoring the little legume is no small undertaking. It takes strategy. It takes sponsors. It takes ... well, it takes lots of people working together. Anyone interested in supporting this community effort should contact Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or Darlene Goins at 423-413-8284.

One editorial can’t do justice to the wonders of the cowpea and the coming festival that will honor its greatness.

We shall have more to say later.