Pictured above: Matthew Barnes and Jim Underhill enjoy a best-of-three format, with Barnes earning the title as 2020 Garden-Tilling Champion.

As the smell of BBQ filled the air this past Labor Day weekend, a gathering in Ely, brought an agrarian vibe to the holiday. A group of about 25 people gathered at Jim Underhill’s equipment shop for his annual watermelon growing contest and tiller race.

The watermelon contest saw four entries with an easily identifiable winner prior to weigh-in. Darin Underhill›s 119-pound melon was declared the winner with a 22-pound advantage over the next heaviest melon from Swinkey.

However, the highly anticipated tiller race brought on a battle of two different styles of garden-tilling: a cunning and veteran tiller in Jim Underhill against an aggressive and youthful Matthew Barnes. Jim›s tilling strategy included using a light-weight tiller with tines wrapped in black electric tape to increase velocity. Barnes› heavy-horsepower garden-tiller came with rods connecting each of the four tilling-tines to give a “floating” effect. Both competitors agreed to a best-of-three format.

Digging their boots into the dry, Missouri soil, both racers lined up at the starting line. Monroe City mayor Jerry Potterfield took his unofficial place along the track as a flagman to begin the race. As he waved his hands for the start, both competitors ran with a photosynthetic burst off the starting line. Barnes› would win the first race by a full tiller-length. Underhill and Barnes would go on to tie in the final two races ultimately earning Barnes the title as 2020 Garden-Tilling Champion.

Matthew, an esteemed victor, noted, “The comeback feels good.” Both competitors ended with a photo opportunity proudly shaking hands behind their tillers.

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