An assembly line of watermelon pickers formed under Tuesday’s early-morning sun, helping move summer’s succulent fruit from farm to the tables of the hungry.
Watermelons plucked from the vine in a Burke County farm field filled half a tractor-trailer destined for Golden Harvest Food Bank’s warehouse, mobile food pantry and Master’s Table Soup Kitchen.
The nutrient-rich watermelons will supplement food supplies for Golden Harvest, adding fresh, healthy produce to the diets of those who depend on the food bank for daily meals. In recent years, the food bank has enhanced efforts to provide more fruits and vegetables to the poor.
“It’s all part of the cycle of poverty,” said Chris Turner, the food bank’s chief development officer. “People in poverty have less access to healthy foods because they are generally more expensive.”
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables improve overall health and help reduce medical costs, Turner said.
Golden Harvest has produce gardens at the Master’s Table and in Aiken to support its operations.
The 14,543 pounds of watermelons harvested Tuesday were grown on a farm owned by Elanco, an animal health products company with operations in Augusta. Elanco uses a byproduct from its operations as a fertilizer on the 650-acre farm on Thomas Road off Georgia Highway 23, said Eamonn Warren, the general manager of Elanco’s Augusta Technological Center.
“At Elanco, our company goals are aligned with feeding the world, nutrition and productivity in the food industry,” Warren said after working in the watermelon field.
Last year, the field harvested about 30,000 pounds of watermelons filling a tractor-trailer for Golden Harvest. Elanco employees joined Golden Harvest volunteers in the field, which has also produced pumpkins and soy beans.
Mariann Higgins, of Augusta, was one of the 25 employees and volunteers that lined up in the vines stocking large cardboard boxes with watermelons. As she harvested watermelons for the first time, she thought about the mouths that the fruit would help feed.
“I like helping out,” Higgins said. “It’s healthy food for people to eat – not just junk food.”