Season 1, Episode 03

Farming Like It’s 1699

Return to Episode: Farming Like It’s 1699

Donna Sanders headshot and byline.

Bradford Watermelon Company, out in the countryside near Sumter, SC is a true family farm established in 1840 with a rich history – but Bradfords have been farming this land for 200 years!

While the farm grows many crops, Watermelon is King! In the 1850s Nathaniel Bradford, known in those parts as “Chief” Bradford, created a watermelon known to be a super sweet, with lots of flavor, and a thin rind. However, because of the rind, the watermelon could not be shipped without turning into a watermelon slushy. There was no way to get it to grocers and restaurants. So it has remained a local treasure.

People now place orders well in advance for these heirloom fruits and drive miles to retrieve them. And with careful handling the Bradford Watermelon will make it as far as restaurants in Atlanta, Colombia and Charleston, along with other Bradford Family exclusives like collards so tender you can eat the stalk, and okra so yummy we ate it raw right out of the fields.

Field and Garden Vegetables of America book cover.

A book from the 1850s mentioning the Bradford watermelon, as seen in the episode.

Okra from Nat Bradford's farm.

We met Nat Bradford, named for his ancestor, in the okra field walking with his 5, yes 5, children, keeping it all in the family. Being a native Northerner, okra was a bit foreign to me. Natalie Bradford, 9-years-old and the only girl in the family, had no problem explaining it and showing me how to eat it right from the field. 

Nat demonstrated how to tell in okra is fresh. If the tip breaks off easily with a snapping sound, it’s ripe and ready to eat — just a little tip you guys may want to remember. Nat told me later they eat okra every day, especially with eggs in the morning! On a side note, I am still trying to get that recipe.

The house is a true farm house with a beautiful porch, built in the 1930s and absolutely charming. I do like porches so I may be a little jealous there. The inside of the house did not disappoint. With large spacious rooms there was plenty of room for all of us, the Bradfords and our crew.

The main interview took place at a huge dining room table. Did I mention there was a very big dog running around the table! The dog liked running around the cameras and at times we thought he would knock them down. Well the dog was very graceful and to the relief of the crew the cameras held fast. Shooo, that could have been a disaster in the making!

Rewind to the outside of the farm. Nat keeps his own beehives, meaning he does not bring them in from someplace else to pollinate crops. Cute little bees (but I could have done without them!). Anyway, as the interview was taking place Nat’s nephew, who helps out on the farm, came running in the house. The bees were actually chasing him! I imagine Nat must be used to this and calmly smooshed the bee on the back of his nephew’s shirt. I don’t know if this was a funny or scary sight, but the cameras kept rolling and you will see it in the episode.

After the interview Nat brought the watermelon in the kitchen that Chip carried in from the field in the episode, not an easy thing to do. It was immense! Nat cut the watermelon for Chip and our friend, renowned Southern Writer Tom Poland, to taste. The rest of us were a bit jealous, but finally we got to sample some of the melon and it was probably the best I ever tasted.

We got a tour of the rest of the house which ended in Natalie’s room. She is a precious precocious girl and gave Chip a very grownup interview. The interview ended with Chip extended his hand and saying, “Thank you, Natalie.” As she shook his hand like a grownup, she ended the conversation with a firm, “Thank you, Chip” that was way beyond her years. This may have gotten lost in the translation, but we all rolled with laughter.

Fast forward to the interview with Bette Bradford, Nat’s wife. Her story was incredible and told with such passion. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I do think a few tears slipped out of my eyes.

Bradford Farms is a place I would love to visit again. Being one of my first trips with Where The Food Comes From I probably could have gotten more behind the scenes. Hopefully one day, I’ll get to continue this story…

Watermelon and African Cantaloupe

Watermelon and African Cantaloupe compared to my suitcase.