Behind-The-Scenes

Season 3, Episode 06

The Watermelon Capital Of The World

Donna Sanders headshot and byline.

Picture this: a hot summers day, watermelon fields, watermelon queens and gnats. When I say hot, I mean hot! Think about what a 110-degree day feels like! And when I say gnats – I am not talking about a few – I mean a gazillion gnats! Not one of the best situations to film in. Oh well, “The show must go on.”

After this description you may be wondering where we are. Where The Food Comes From visited Cordele, Ga June 16. We had the privilege of meeting the wonderful folks at Leger & Son, Inc. and Cordele-Crisp County Chamber of Commerce.

Who doesn’t like watermelon? The amazing red color, juiciness and sweetness totally screams summer. And in May through September it is so welcomed – especially during those long “dog days of summer.”

Cordele watermelons water melon patch

Watermelons in Leger & Son's patch.

Before the interviews started we had surprise visitors. Two beautiful little girls, Harper & Bailey Mathis, and their grandfather and grandmother, Wesley and Beverly Mathis. If you look closely you can see Bailey wiping away the gnats on her face. Bless her little heart.

Chip did not interview them. They were there to pick the juicy, sweet and very large watermelons from the massive field of Leger & Son, Inc.

One of my favorite pictures is Wesley cutting open a watermelon and letting Bailey eat it right from the field. I was able to see the watermelon juice running down her adorable face, but all I could think of was how sticky her face was going to be (spoken like a true mother of four). 

Children and grandfather picking watermelons.

Harper, Bailey and Wesley Mathis

Grandfather and granddaughter exploring watermelon patch.

Bailey and Grandfather Wesley.

Our first interview took place with Cole Leger, who’s in charge of quality control for Leger & Son, Inc. in the watermelon fields. What did Chip & Cole talk about? Watermelons of course. Cole gave Chip a lesson in how to determine when a watermelon is ripe for the picking. In a nutshell, one indicator is if you thump the watermelon and if you feel the vibration on the other side the watermelon is ripe. A second indicator relates to the green stripes on the outside shell. The greener and narrower the stripes the riper the watermelon is.

UGH! Another place for me to trip! Watermelon fields are dangerous places to walk. The vines are so dense it is easy to get caught in them. But, the actual purpose of the vines is to protect the delicate fruit from the hot sun.

Chip getting a lesson on how to pick watermelon.

Cole Leger and Chip

Like so many farms we have seen Leger & Son, Inc. has their own beehives. But, watch out for those bees! Cole had to chase one away. Very lucky someone didn’t get stung. I do carry around an emergency kit, but it does not include tweezers – to remove the stinger – fresh soap and water – to wash the area (maybe a wipe will do I don’t really know) – and an ice pack – to help with the swelling. I’m glad this is an easy fix and bet your bottom dollar it will be added to my kit. Oh, I did immediately add two different kinds of gnat spray to my bag – remember there were a gazillion gnats.

Leger & Son beehives.

Leger & Son beehives

Another interesting thing that caught my eye were school buses without seats or windows. When I saw the first one, I thought it had been in an accident. Turns out this is done on purpose. The bus moves slowly across the field and harvesters pick and toss the watermelons into it. I can’t imagine how they did it in 105-degree heat. I really hoped they stayed hydrated; it’s been a long time since I performed CPR.

Bus outfitted for watermelon cargo in the field.

Bus has been repurposed to carry watermelon from the field to the packing house.

To the Packing House!

By now some of you know packinghouses are one of my favorite places to visit. I like the logical and rhythmic routine of it, if that makes sense. Indulge me while I try to explain the process.

It takes an astonishing one hour for the watermelons to go from the field, to the packing house, cleaned, cooled and shipped to their destination. Amazing, another testament as to how fast farmers move their crops out.

While I was checking out the packinghouse the crew was setting up for interviews in the conference room of the offices of Leger & Son, Inc. There were three interviews. Naturally, Cole was one of them. The other two took place with president/owner Greg Leger and Director of Sales & Marketing Jordan Carter. I am not going to repeat the details, naturally they are seen in the episode.

Camera and sound crew setting up for interviews.

The Crew

Cole Leger sitting.

Cole Leger

Greg Leger sitting.

Greg Leger

Jordan Carter headshot.

Jordan Carter

Time for lunch at the air conditioned and beautiful Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club located in middle of Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. There is only one word to describe this resort: gorgeous. It’s a great golf or vacation destination.

Veterans Memorial State Park was established in 1946 and, as it names implies, honors U.S. veterans who fought in World War II. They had an amazing display of planes and helicopters used during the war. It felt a bit earie walking around them. You could almost imagine the pilots sitting in the planes fighting our combatants and the helicopter airlifting the wounded. Or maybe the Red Baron was lurking around the next mountain.

Military aircraft on display.
Fighter jet on display.
Military helicopter on display.

Interviews Continue

After a wonderful lunch more interviews took place in the lounge of Blackshear Resort. This time with Vice President of Marketing and Special Projects of the Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce Tamala Mathis and general manager of Lake Blackshear Resort Sonny Taylor. Side note, Tamala is the mother of the two beautiful girls you met earlier, Harper & Bailey. Once again, the interviews are in the episode.

Chip Carter interviews Sonny Taylor

Chip and Sonny Taylor

Tamala Mathis

Tamala Mathis

We have all seen the Miss America Pageant or Miss Universe Pageant. I think most people feel they are beauty pageants. But, the watermelon pageants that happen across the country are different — the young ladies involved all hope to one day be named National Watermelon Queen, but make no mistake, these girls and young women are ambassadors. The Watermelon Capital Queen Pageant is not a beauty pageant, but a pageant encouraging confidence, improving communication skills and building self-esteem — all fantastic skills to have later in life.

What I did not know is that pageant winners come in all ages, in this case ages 5 through 19. We met four Watermelon Capital Queens.  Let see if I can get this right. From left to right we have: Zoey Pope – Petite Miss Melon, Kady Boothe – Junior Miss Melon, Charleigh Harper – Miss Watermelon Capital Queen, and Kenzi David – Miss Melon People’s Choice. It was adorable watching Charleigh holding Kenzi’s hand walking through the field — I thought I had a picture of that.

Chip standing with four Watermelon Queens

(L) Zoey Pope, Kady Boothe, Charleigh Harper and Kenzi David

Time to go to a parking lot in downtown Cordele proper in front of a huge statue of a watermelon slice. It was here the temperature hit 110-degrees. Lying on the ground there in the parking lot as we made our way to the statue was… something unidentifiable but very ugly and covered with napkins. Well Associate Producer Styles Wilson, decided to shovel it out of the way. Turned out this was not a good idea. Let’s just say I hoped it was dog waste, but it probably was something else. I am sure you can use your imagination and figure this out for yourselves. Another “No Bueno.” But we all soldiered on.

At this point it was so hot the crew was afraid the cameras and sound devices would start overheating and turn off. That would have been a huge disaster. What was the solution? Me and some of the moms held umbrellas over the equipment and to my amazement it worked. Is it time to leave yet? As usual the answer is no.

Chip with three Watermelon Queens.

(L) Charleigh, Kenzi & Zoey

There is one more very hot scene located in front of the Titan I Missile in another parking lot – Chip has called it a rocket for many years, but I call it a missile. Well I was right and it has been a standing joke between us ever since. The rocket came from California and is not a replica or scaled model, it’s the real thing. The Titan I Missile has been a Cordele landmark for the past 50-years. Side note: the missile was too tall for me to get a picture of it, but you’ll see it multiple times in the show.

Again, I thought to myself isn’t this over yet? I really want to get out the heat! But to my dismay the answer, of course, was still no. On the bright side (you always have to try to find one) there were only a few gnats by this time of day.

It was here Chip had another photo op and interview with Tamala. It totally amazed me how cool she looked! No sweating for her, wish I could say the same about me. By the way, Tamala is gorgeous and confident and should have been an alumni Miss Watermelon Capital Queen.

At last, it was time for our last interview. Chip spoke with Miss Watermelon Capital Queen Charleigh Harper. By this time I was getting dizzy and had to get to the air conditioned car so I did not get to hear it.

Chip and Tamala Mathis in front of Titan Missile

Chip and Tamala Mathis

Chip interviews Charleigh Harper

Chip and Charleigh Harper

Finally, the excruciatingly hot and gnat infested shoot was over. Don’t get me wrong it was great! The people we met are so warm and welcoming. This is something we have found to be true no matter where we go. By the way – the heat did turn my camera off.

So, there you have it. Where to next? Hopefully somewhere a little cooler.

And now two of my “just because” pictures…

Peanut plant growing in the ground.

An actual peanut plant.

Kenzi eating watermelon.

Kids, am I right?