Safeway Local Watermelon Farm Tour at Perry & Sons in Manteca, CA . . .
Have you ever thought about how watermelons grow? It’s normal to know how strawberries, tomatoes, and even cucumbers grow. But, somehow, that just doesn’t happen with watermelons. We see it, think “Mmm, watermelon!”, then eat it. That’s it. When I received an invitation to visit a watermelon farm, I was more than slightly intrigued. Safeway knows that fresher is better and to get fresh you need to go local. So began my field trip to Perry & Sons farm.
Bright and early on August 13th (I woke up at 5am, yawn . . . ), our bus departed San Francisco and we headed out to Tracy, CA. There we picked up a few more guests, including third generation watermelon farmer, Art Perry. Originally from the Azores island near Portugal, the family-run operation began back in 1925 and has worked with Safeway for the past 60 years of that.
Courtesy of Terry VanderHeiden
The fact that Safeway has such loyalty with local farmers says a lot to me, in a good way. It was also impressive to see just how close Art and Safeway Produce Merchandising Director, Steve Tsujimoto, were. I guess 34 years of partnership can do that do people.
Art put most emphasis on building relationships. That’s how they continually acquire land to farm and continue to do so, through their relationships with neighboring farms. According to the Perry family, the best type of soil to grow watermelon in is new, virgin land.
Once watermelon is grown in a field, they do not use it any more. Instead, pumpkins are planted next and then other crops like corn, wheat, and tomatoes are rotated in. Watermelon is a tricky fruit/vegetable to grow but we could tell how passionate Art was about the labor of love.
Seeing watermelons in the different stages of development was really very interesting. I could NOT believe that a baseball-sized watermelon reached full-size in only four weeks! From seed to being fully ripe it’s only about 90 days total – and these plants are massive!
Art’s right-hand man, Paul Gomes, skillfully sliced open some VERY fresh watermelon. Surprisingly, it was actually cool inside. The temperature drops significantly in the evening here and the watermelon can retain that temperature for quite some time. Wow, nothing like sweet, cool, fresh watermelon. The resident bees agreed.
Our tour broken down into five stations with different watermelon-inspired treats at each one. My favorites had to be the watermelon salsa (with corn, black beans, bell peppers, etc. but no tomatoes) and the prosciutto-wrapped watermelon (great balance of sweet and salty). Another surprise was the drink with watermelon blended finely with rose vinegar.
Safeway’s own chef came up with original recipes for this event but the presentation and catering was done by Greens Market in Modesto, CA. They did a beautiful job and that watermelon ‘grill’ was a hit. There were even blackberries inside for the ‘coals’. Oh, and yes, that flower near the salsa was a carved watermelon.
Almost all the watermelons grown here are seedless. Did you know that seedless watermelon are not genetically manipulated? Instead, pollinator plants, which are a cross of three varieties, are used. With the help of bees, pollen is transferred to the plants which then produce sterile watermelon (aka seedless).
We even learned that the lightly-colored brown patches are due to harmless worms. As these can just be wiped off and do not burrow, they do not affect the inside of the watermelon at all. It was good to know this as I’ve often put a melon back when I saw these spots that made it look less than perfect.
A ripe watermelon should be heavy, have firm ends, be uniform, and have a ‘ping’ when you tap it. If you hear a ‘thud’ it’s overripe. I’m still getting the hang of this. Perry & Sons are not 100% organic but they do not fumigate and are still on the list of the ‘clean 15’. When buying the watermelon at Safeway, they are picked ripe and are meant to be taken home and eaten right away. Still, there’s a good amount of shelf life so don’t be worried that it will spoil immediately.
The whole process was rather interesting and very educational. There was so much involved in coming up with the right flavors and textures to adjusting the watering levels appropriately for each stage. The information includedI feel a homeschool unit study coming on . . .
I mentioned it briefly a little earlier but the farm also grows and harvests pumpkins and gourds. Art spoke about the different varieties they grow including Cannon Ball and Big Mac pumpkins. At Safeway, they are merely labeled ‘large’ and ‘small’.
Courtesy of Terry VanderHeiden
I was so impressed with how welcoming the family was in hosting our small group of media. At the last station, even the second generation Perry (George), his wife, their sons, their wives, and their grandchildren came to meet us. Many thanks go to them and the Safeway/PR team for a great day. What an experience!
To bring our tour full-circle, we returned to the Safeway in Tracy for some closing remarks and photos. So, next time you eat a watermelon, if it’s really, really, tasty, remember the hard work your local farmers put into growing it 🙂
I was invited to a media event by Safeway. I was not compensated for this post but my travel was reimbursed and gift card was provided for giveaway. All opinions are 100% my own.