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Day and night farmers

Longtime farming family finds success with diversified crop.


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You would think being around watermelons all day, you might get tired of eating the sometimes-messy snack. Not farmer Dan Van Groningen. But then again, he's had a lot of practice eating watermelons at his family farm in Ripon. For more than 70 years now, the family has been growing the picnic favorite and has enjoyed every minute of it—seeds and all!

"My grandfather first started growing watermelons in 1939," Dan said. "It's been a staple at our farm ever since."

The melons love the warm days and cool nights the Central Valley offers them. The fruit takes about 100 days to grow before being plucked out of the fields by workers who then transfer them to a harvest truck. While the Van Groningens still grow the traditional seeded ones here, they have planted more of the seedless watermelon varieties in recent years as popularity has increased.

After the watermelons leave the field, they are taken to a packing shed where they are sorted and even polished up a bit before being shipped off to a supermarket near you. There are now several generations of Van Groningens working together at the farm, including Dan's 86-year-old dad. In recent years, the family has diversified the farm and has 4,500 acres in production of a variety of crops. So now when the sun goes down on the melon harvest, work begins on their other big crop—sweet corn.

"We like to do it at night because the corn is cooler at night," Dan said. "It takes less effort to get the heat out of the corn at night. If we harvest during the day, it's way too hot and the corn goes into a starch."

After harvest, the corn is kept cool at the packing shed and is quickly sorted and boxed up on ice. Dan says he hopes to harvest more than 19,000 ears of corn per acre this year, which is good news to the legion of fans the farm has, including the Cattlemens Restaurant chain of Northern California.

The restaurant proudly displays their close relationship with the farm on each table. And despite being a meat-and-potatoes type of place, they are doing a steady business in corn. They go through about 500 ears of corn a week at their Vacaville location alone.

For more information about Van Groningen and Sons, visit www.vgandsons.com.

For more information about the Cattlemens Restaurant chain, visit www.beststeakinthewest.com.


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