Buy the Whole Damn Watermelon: A Culinary Crusade for Florida Farmers

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Discover the untold story behind the one-of-a-kind watermelon cultivation in Florida and the critical need for supporting local farmers in this eye-opening journey through the heart of Florida agriculture.

In the realm of American agriculture, farmers stand as a resilient yet dwindling force. They comprise less than 2% of the population yet bear the immense responsibility of feeding our nation and beyond. Amidst a labyrinth of challenges—from labor shortages to plant diseases and cutthroat competition from foreign markets—our farmers face an uncertain future where the very foundation of our food system hangs in the balance.

Melon1 Farm

The Sunshine State finds itself at the crossroads with rapid land development threatening vital agriculture spaces. Once converted, these lands are lost to farming forever. Not widely known, watermelon crops can only be farmed on a specific plot of land for one year and cannot return to that same plot for another decade. The yearly dance of watermelon cultivation in Florida underscores the critical need for preserving agricultural land and supporting local farmers who drive our food economy. On a recent trip, hosted by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, American Seed Trade Association, Fresh From Florida and the University of Florida IFAS, I realized the crux of the matter was indeed a much larger picture than I had originally imagined.

The laborious nature of farming is a harsh reality, with few willing to endure the physical demands it entails. Farmers who pay nearly $15 an hour struggle to secure domestic labor, resorting to costly H2A visas to import workers from countries like Mexico. This cost nearly doubles as farmers are also required to provide housing and transportation to H2A workers. Handpicking remains a predominant method for harvesting produce in Florida, exemplified by Lipman Family Farms dispatching millions of pounds of handpicked tomatoes daily.

Lipman Family Farm

Plant diseases loom as a significant threat, necessitating substantial investments in research and development for disease-resistant seeds. At Sakata Seed America, a seed breeder in Fort Myers, FL, the journey from seed to farmer or supermarket shelves involves years of meticulous planning and cost-intensive processes. Each watermelon bears the weight of a decade’s worth of research and innovation behind its creation.

Sakata

Natural disasters add another layer of complexity, further challenging farmers’ ability to sustain their livelihoods. Despite earning a mere fraction of what consumers pay (an average of .15 cents on the dollar), farmers toil tirelessly, often just breaking even or hoping to turn a modest profit at a year’s end. Their resilience stems not from monetary gains but from a deep-rooted passion and commitment to nourishing communities.

In a world where every purchase holds weight, consider the impact of supporting local farmers by purchasing what is in season and opting for fresh Florida produce. Reconsider the allure of pre-cut items, which not only come at a premium due to labor costs but also contribute to significant food waste (on average, 35% of pre-cut items are wasted). By embracing the whole watermelon, you champion those who dedicate their lives to cultivating our food supply and sustaining our agricultural heritage. It’s not just a fruit; it’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of those who feed us.

Photo credit: @officialmelon1 IG

The next time you browse the aisles of your local grocery store or peruse the produce stand at your farmer’s market, ask for Fresh From Florida offerings and make a conscious choice to support our farmers. In a world where every purchase is a vote, let the whole damn watermelon be a symbol of solidarity with those who work tirelessly to feed us all. Let’s honor their dedication and passion by investing in the future of our food system, one watermelon at a time.

Author’s Note:

This article was made possible by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Fresh From Florida, American Seed Trade Association, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Sakata, Lipman Family Farms, Tamiami Citrus, Troyer Brothers, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Mobley Plant World, Florida Radish and Melon1. Thank you for your gracious hospitality, for allowing me to pepper you with questions, and for permitting me to tour your farms and facilities. As a Florida native and descendant of a long line of farmers, I thank you!

Leave a comment below, tag and follow @domesticgourmet @flafruitandveg @better_seed @freshfromflorida on Instagram, and hashtag #domesticgourmet, #FFVA, #freshfromflorida, #asta, #ufifas

Join the Conversation

  1. Randy Bailey says:

    A very interesting and informative article. Thank you.

  2. Nicole Stover says:

    You truly captured everything our farmers are facing while still being resilient and passionate about what they do, family, and the future.

  3. You shared some valuable information. Hopefully more people will appreciate and support our local farmers.

  4. Wow! So many obstacles and so much hard work. I will definitely take this to heart and look for Fresh from Florida produce. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  5. Mary Herrera says:

    Less than 2% of the population are farmers!????

    1. Yes, LESS than 2% and they not only feed all of us but we also export some. However, they’re in jeopardy and in 25 years that could change. We could potentially be at risk of having to import our food to feed our nation. My goal is to inform what’s at risk and how we can help. Hopefully, you are inspired to ask for fresh from Florida produce. South Florida, where you are, is surrounded by farmers!

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