Banner Staff Writer
New details on this year’s installment of Charleston’s International Cowpea Festival and Cook-off have been announced.
Melissa Woody, vice president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce, gave members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club an update on how the planning for this fall’s event is going.
The festival will take place on Saturday, Sept. 13, in Charleston Park. The nearly all-day event will begin at 10 a.m., and will end with a concert from its headlining musician, who takes the stage at 6:30 p.m.
The one-day celebration is centered around cowpeas, legumes that include varieties like the black-eyed pea, the purple hull pea and the crowder pea.
Woody explained the annual gathering, which began in 2012, was the result of a search for an opportunity to hold an annual event in Charleston that would draw visitors to the town. The Chamber had earlier hosted “Wild River Days,” which honored the 50th anniversary of a movie called “Wild River” that had been filmed in the Charleston area. However, Woody said organizers decided the event wouldn’t be “as special” if it became an annual one.
Farm Bureau President Jack Sanders is credited with coming up with the idea of featuring cowpeas in a festival. Charleston is now being called the “Cowpea Capital of the United States” because the peas are culinary mainstays that are said to have played a role in Charleston’s agricultural history.
Seeing the success of events like the annual cornbread festival in South Pittsburg, Woody said they decided to try creating a festival centered around cowpeas. It is now billed as “the harvest festival with a funny name.”
“You can’t get a cowpea festival anywhere else in the whole wide world,” Woody said.
The event, sponsored by Bush Brothers and Whirlpool, features a variety of activities ranging from a professional cowpea cook-off to a country music concert.
From 2 to 5 p.m., area chefs will be whipping up cowpea-inclusive offerings to be judged by festival attendees who have purchased souvenir forks.
Using stoves on loan from Whirlpool, the chefs and their sous chefs, culinary arts students from Cleveland High School, will be trying to make food from Bush’s peas that can win the affections of the cowpea-loving public.
An amateur cook-off event will also be taking place to give even those who aren’t professional chefs the chance to impress.
The winners of a photography contest for work depicting aquicultural scenes will also be on display at the festival.
A “family fun field” will feature a variety of activities for families and their children.
One of the event’s main attractions will be a marketplace where vendors will sell a variety of homemade items like food and arts and crafts items.
Local storytellers will also be set up in a tent to capture the attention of their audiences with their stories.
The culinary event will culminate in a concert.
This year’s headlining artist is Mike Snider, a country music artist who is known for playing the banjo, being a member of the Grand Ole Opry and acting on the TV show “Hee Haw.”
Money made from the event this year will go to support Charleston’s Hiwassee River Heritage Center, Woody said.
More information about the event, including how to enter the photography contest and amateur cook-off, can be found at www.cowpeafestival.com.