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Sweet corn icon Harbes gives watermelons center stage at festival

Visitors participate in the watermelon rolling contest at

Visitors participate in the watermelon rolling contest at Harbes Family Farm and Vineyard in Mattituck on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, during the second annual Watermelon Festival. Credit: Meghan Fitzgerald

Harbes Family Farm and Vineyard celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Sweet Corn Festival last year. But the popularity of another crop is growing, prompting another annual event.

The second Watermelon Festival took place last Saturday and Sunday at the Mattituck farm. Owner Ed Herbes, 57, of Mattituck, said watermelon has become a best-seller, taking up several acres on his 100-acre farm to meet demand.

“It’s a nice way to promote our products,” Harbes said. “And watermelons are just going into season.”

This year’s festival drew fans of the fruit, with the farm making sure they could appreciate the melon in a whole new way, offering themed games in addition to the hay rides and pig races offered regularly. A watermelon-rolling contest, seed-spitting event and watermelon-eating challenge occupied children and a few kids at heart.

Nicole Search, 29, of Patchogue, watched as her two young daughters rolled their watermelons across the lawn, dodging parents helping toddlers, children and adults in a pursuit to push their melons over the finish line first.

"We love it here," Search said. "The first time we came, we stayed for nine hours. I love all the games and activities they have for the kids like the watermelon race."

Harbes took over the farm in 1989 after learning from his father, who had grown wholesale potatoes. But when potato sales started to decline, he knew it was time to expand the family business. So Harbes began growing among other crops, including his now-famous sweet corn and seedless watermelon.

"My father had a saying," Harbes said. "He said 'never expect anything to be easy.' So often you need to think of what you can do with your resources."

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