CARLIE KOLLATH: Celebrate tomatoes – and Elvis

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

You can learn a lot from a town if you go to its big festival. The other weekend I went to the tomato festival in Crystal Springs, a small town outside of Jackson.
Crystal Springs used to be known as the tomatopolis of the world. The story goes that at one point, more tomatoes were grown and shipped out of Crystal Springs than any other place in the country.
The tomato industry is long gone, but Crystal Springs still celebrates its claim to fame every June.
The town’s newspaper reminds people that company’s coming (i.e.. tourists) so they need to spruce up their houses, yards and businesses. And people do it.
The festival wraps around the downtown area and includes a residential street. The beautiful old homes peek out from behind the vendors’ tents.
Many of the homes have bright red tomato flags flapping from the front porch. Others have a big wooden tomato sign staked in the yard.
The businesses decorate with tomatoes as well. The Chamber of Commerce even let one business owner borrow a gigantic fake tomato to put in the store window.
The festival continues the tomato theme with a farmer’s market that features produce grown in Crystal Springs. Plus, plenty of vendors offer canned goods.
The festival T-shirts usually sell out before the event is over. People in the community buy the year’s T-shirt and wear it to the festival.
The town’s dedication to the tomato festival made me think about our own Elvis Festival.
Bernard Bean of Fairpark Grill encourages Tupelo businesses to embrace our Elvis heritage by decorating windows for the festival. Some do and some don’t.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen residents decorate homes in the Elvis spirit during the festival.
It’s a shame because Elvis makes our town different. The tomato is a common element, but Crystal Springs has embraced it and is making money off of the event. Proceeds from the festival fund the Chamber of Commerce. It also draws tourists.
Every year the organizers of the Elvis Festival talk about what the festival is. Some jokingly say it has a split personality. Part of the festival is dedicated to all-things Elvis. The other part of the festival features popular musicians.
One year, organizers went to the Collingwood Elvis Festival in Canada. Collingwood has no ties to Elvis, but the event has become the world’s largest Elvis festival. The town converts to all-Elvis mode for the festival, according to the event’s general manager.
Employees dress up for the event, stores decorate, the city plays Elvis music from its loudspeakers and the streets are filled with more than 100 Elvis tribute artists.
Last year, about 40,000 people were at the festival.
Organizers of the Tupelo Elvis Festival at the time expressed their desires to be like Collingwood. But that would require the festival to be all Elvis all the time. It also would require the community to pitch in and fan the Elvis flame for the week.
I enjoyed seeing the tomatoes all over Crystal Springs. It made me feel like the town was proud of the festival.
I would like to see the same in Tupelo. I’ll even do my part and put some Elvis yard art in front of my house.


Contact business reporter Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@journalinc.com.