Watermelon | Coyanosa, Tx, Summer 2014

Watermelons are harvested in August and September at the Mandujano Brothers Farm outside of Coyanosa, Texas.  With few rainy days, the melons are able to bask in the sun and grow on the soil without decaying from fungus or mold.  There are two sets of workers in the watermelon field, the cutters and the pickers.  The cutters go ahead of the pickers and scout the melons that are ripe and of good quality.  They then cut the watermelon from its vine and move on down the field.  There is only need for 3-5 cutters for every dozen or so pickers, and since the cutters move faster, when they finish with the field, they move in line with the pickers who load the melons into the packing truck. The pickers walk in a side-by-side formation about 7 feet apart down the patch.  They are flanked on each side by huge 50 foot long wooden-paneled flatbed trailers that are being driven by a semi-truck.  Usually about 10 workers fill the space between the trucks, meaning each watermelon patch is around 100 feet wide.  The pickers walk in file looking for the watermelons the cutters cut, pick them off the soil, and toss them to each other towards whatever truck is closest.  The worker nearest to the truck tosses the melon, sometimes using just one hand, to the worker in the bed of the truck about 10 feet off the ground.  The person in the trailer then gently places the watermelons in the bed making sure they stack well and do not crack open.  The pickers rotate positions in order not to exhaust themselves.  For instance, the pickers in the middle of the patch, farthest from the trucks, will only have to handle the melons they pick up, where as the person closest to the trailer will have to handle every watermelon that goes into the trailer.  Everyone gets a turn at being the one to toss up the melons to the person in the trailer, even if they are a full foot shorter than the person next to them.  Watermelon season is slightly cooler than cantaloupe season, with temperatures averaging around 96F degrees in August and 90F degrees in September.  However, record temperatures can reach well above 100F degrees throughout the season.  The sun is also scorching and workers must wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats with cloth attached to the back to protect their necks.  Thick jeans are required because the watermelon leaves are thorny and can cut exposed skin.  Venomous snakes are abundant and pickers must be aware of where they put their hands and feet.  It is not uncommon to see a picker hurl a discarded melon as hard as they can to try to kill a poisonous snake in the field.  If the field gets a hard rain, the harvest has to wait a couple of days to dry because the trucks carrying the melons will get stuck in the mud.  Furthermore, in June and July, when the melon plants are sprouting, the harvesters also remove the unwanted weeds from field by hand using hoes.