CHARLESTON -- Seventeen seconds per tomato.
That rapid pace at which William Harrison gulped down seven tomatoes Saturday morning made him the best tomato-gulper of the group.
The 20-year-old Eastern Illinois University student from Belleville handled the tomatoes, ranging from baseball-sized to smaller than a golf ball, in two minutes flat.
He beat out nine other participants in a tomato-eating contest that was a part of Tomato Fest, a new feature for the 18th Street Farmers Market in Charleston.
"I was just trying to get as much in my mouth as possible," Harrison said of his strategy after his win.
As the winner, he received $25 to spend at the farmers market, and every contestant got a market shopping bag.
With the farmers market taking place in the parking lot of the Coles County Human Services building on Saturdays during the summer, Tomato Fest took its inspiration from one of the most popular items sold there.
Tomatoes, corn and green beans are the top three produce items at the market, said Jessica Sweitzer, one of the event's organizers.
"We wanted to have something that would attract the most people and have fun at the same time," she said.
Sweitzer is one of the owners of First Fruits Homestead, a farm south of Charleston and a regular vendor at the farmers market. It and three other farms donated the tomatoes for the contest.
She also said she and Steve Runyon with the Home Again resale store decided to have the Tomato Fest activities to help "involve the whole family." The plan is to repeat the event in the future, she said.
The tomato-related activities Saturday also included presentations on growing tomatoes from the Illinois Extension Service Master Gardeners program.
There were also cooking demonstrations and recipes for dishes with tomatoes available, along with musical performances.
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