Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Growing Watermelons in Corn Season

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Growing Watermelons in Corn Season

Article excerpt

By Amy Bickel

The Hutchinson News

ST. JOHN -- In a large field of watermelons, Renae Doggett listens.

Here in Stafford County, where the soil is sandy, there is one sound that matters. It's hard for her to explain it, the hollow tone she's discerning with every thump.

It is the sound of a sweet, ripe watermelon ready for shipment to Dillons stores and vendors across the region.

"You get your ear trained to know the right sound," said Doggett as she watched workers plucking the fruit from the vines on an August morning and then laughed. "You must have to have an ear for it. If you stand out here on your head long enough, you figure it out, you know what looks ripe."

Amid the county's conventional crop fields of corn and milo, it's watermelon and cantaloupe season at DeVore Farms near St. John. From July through September, the family and their employees work to harvest 200 acres of melons -- loading up trailers that are taken back to the farm, sorted onto semitrailers and shipped to the Dillons warehouse in Hutchinson.

They have pumpkins, too, which are picked through the autumn.

This is Doggett's family farm -- one that includes wheat and cattle, and something a little less traditional for the Kansas plains -- produce.

She and her brother Rus DeVore are fourth generation Stafford County watermelon growers.

Except for a time in the 1970s, this family tradition has been ongoing since Doggett's great-grandfather, Eugene Sayler, and grandfather, Gilbert Sayler, started hauling watermelons to small-town groceries in the 1930s.

"They did that for a living because there was nothing else to do to make a living," Doggett's mother, Patricia DeVore, 81, said of the Great Depression.

Rus said his grandfather was making one of his first trips to Great Bend with a horse and wagon when he realized he needed a different mode of transportation if he was going to be successful -- a car to deliver melons.

"All he had was a buckboard. With the buckboard, by the time he got to Great Bend, he would have had mush," Rus said. "So he went to the Chevy dealer and found a car for $15, and they let him have it with no money down. He told them he'd pay for it the next day. …

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