Thomas: ‘Best year ever’ for melons: Has been growing for 47 years

Published 6:27 am Saturday, June 25, 2016

This is a good year for watermelons.

Zander Thomas said he’s been growing the fruit for 47 years, and this is the best year he’s ever had. It’s all due to the weather, Thomas said.

“Not too much rain, just enough rain,” he said.

Though March was notably wet — bringing a historic flood to Bogalusa — Thomas said his melon patch didn’t suffer for it.

“That didn’t bother me,” he said.

This year’s crop isn’t any bigger, he said, but they’re sweeter.

“It’s not too much water and the ground they were grown in,” he says, explaining the source of the melon’s sweetness. “Mainly it’s the ground they were grown in.”

On Friday, a local television news crew was stopping by the farm for an interview. Two other crews from different channels stopped by earlier in the week.

Bobby Gerald, the owner of the land, explained the media interest. “These are the best watermelons,” he said.

These days, Thomas is hauling hundreds of melons from his 60,000 vines and hundreds of tomatoes from his 10,000 plants on a sprawling, 50-acre spread of land in north Washington Parish. He’s also growing squash, bell peppers and cantaloupes.

In addition, since late May, his family has been working to get GAP certified to sell to Walmart. GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices and it’s a program of voluntary audits established by the USDA to ensure food safety.

Tisha Thomas, Zander’s sister-in-law, said the certification should be completed by fall, just in time for the harvest.

As it stands now, Zander Thomas and his family sell melons to across the state via truck stands, but by the fall, the family could be in retail stores across the region, if not the nation.

Zander said he’s happy to expand the operation, though he mostly enjoys just being able to work with his family.

“It ain’t just me,” he said. “It takes my brother and my wife and the family. It takes the whole bunch.”

Tisha Thomas said she’s getting the kids involved in the GAP process, so they’ll be able to take over the operation when they’re older.

“You start working on it with your future farmers,” she said. “If they start out when they’re young, knowing what to do, it’s not as hard to implement when they’re older.”