Every summer, major broadcast networks and famous folk descend upon Hermiston, Oregon. They’re not there to talk about politics or the latest fashion trends. They want to chat about Hermiston watermelons. While this region might not be the epicenter of global production, it is known for growing some of the best late-season watermelons on the planet. We had a chance to chat with the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce about the legendary large fruit that has put this quaint town on the map.
It's All About the Loam, Climate, and Pride
Hermiston, Oregon, is situated off I-84 and just south of the Columbia River. When it was first settled, farmers discovered sandy volcanic soil with wonderful loam content. They grew what they needed. However, that didn’t include watermelons, which are 92% water. At least not on a large scale.
Fast forward to the mid 20th century, and watermelons were the talk of the town. The region was ideal for growing some of the sweetest and tastiest fruit anywhere in the world thanks to hot days, cools nights, and that legendary loam.
Today’s varieties, including seeded and seedless options, are shipped all over the Northwest, Canada, and as far south as Texas.
“Watermelons are synonymous with Hermiston,” stated Kristina Olivas, Greater Hermiston Chamber of Commerce CEO when asked about the famous fruit. “There is a lot of pride for Hermiston watermelons, They are exclusive to us, and they come from here.”
That sense of pride has permeated every aspect of day-to-day life in Hermiston. The town celebrates Watermelon Day in early August and the Melon Festival mid-month. Even the city logo and welcome water tower feature the perfect barbecue side dish along with the motto “Where life is sweet.”
Of course, there are other industries in and around Hermiston. The celebrated produce doesn’t employ the most people or represent the biggest portion of the local economy. But the pride is real. You can watch it manifest as these sweet fruits grow from tiny seeds to something so large they need their own shopping cart. It’s easy to see why a whole region has latched onto this larger-than-life crop.
A Little History on Watermelons
It’s believed that the distant cousin to today’s watermelons was first grown in Africa long before recorded history. Over time, it found its way into fields in and around the Mediterranean and up into Europe. But it was the ideal climate in Hermiston that perfected the fruit.
While most crops have been automated to a certain extent, Hermiston watermelons are still picked by hand, placed into beds pulled by tractor, sorted, and then put into large bins used for shipping.
How to Pick the Best One
Folks who know a thing or two about the fruit have some suggestions to help you pick the best watermelon for your next barbecue or celebration. First, knock on the melon. If it has a nice, deep sound to it, you’ve likely picked a sweet one. Or you can employ the look-at-the-bottom method. Simply roll the watermelon over until you find the part of the produce that laid on the ground as it grew. If that part is a creamy yellow rather than white, your family will praise your name and ask for your secret to picking the perfect melon. It’ll be up to you if you decide to share your newfound wisdom.
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