Locals reap rewards of imperfect watermelons

Call them what you want: backups, outcasts, rejects or leftovers.

Not every watermelon harvested from the 7,500 acres in North Central Florida is perfect. But they all taste great. 

According to Matt Jones, owner of the watermelon harvesting company Jones & Jones Enterprises, Inc., his graders at the packing plant in Newberry will set aside any melon that has a bad spot on the belly, scratches or scars, is an odd shape, overripe or sunburned on the top.

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“They’ll grade those out,” he said.

In Alachua County a lot of those graded out melons are purchased at a discounted rate or given away to local produce stand operators to offer locals fresh melons for half the price they are going for at supermarkets.

Rodney Williams of Hawthorne has been selling loads of melons on the roadside in Hawthorne for 11 years. He said he buys the imperfect ones by the box, usually 35 to 40, and sells out of them as soon as he gets them.

In Newberry, Paula Fogg has a produce and honey stand on Newberry Road, where she has been selling the rejects every summer since 1972.

“Ten years ago melons were selling for one dollar,” she said. “Now it’s 3 to 6 dollars each depending on size.”

Paula Hogg with her watermelons for sale

On most weekends, friends Wyatt Hooten and Ethan Keene park at the corner of SW 122nd Street and Archer Road with a pickup bed filled with seeded and seedless melons.

Keene has grown watermelon on his family’s five acres before, but for the past four years he’s been heading out to the Whitehurst property in Archer and harvesting the leftovers then bringing them into town to sell.

He sells the large melons for $5 and smaller ones for $3 or two for $5.

“Sometimes we take them to the beach in Daytona,” Keene said. They load up the truck and deliver them to beachgoers.

According to local growers and harvesters, the melon harvesting season is coming to a close and those discounted melons will be sold out soon.

Ethan Keene and Wyatt Hooten sell watermelons from a truck

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