Happy summer to all of the readers of Narrative Matters! This article was prompted by a recent social media post about having a Happy July 4th and enjoying eating watermelon, no matter your race or ethnicity. Eating watermelon during the summer and on the 4th of July is a national tradition. The current watermelon industry and the market in the United States is in heavy demand.
Manivannan and associates (2020) mention that watermelon is a wonder fruit that can help reduce blood pressure and provide essential nutrients to the body. The United States has to import watermelon to keep up with the rising demand. The current United States watermelon industry is about 560 million. More importantly, according to one Chinese source, China’s watermelon industry is a whopping 290 Billion dollars, about 60% of the world market. Really, that much money?
World Atlas, 2023
This market includes selling the seeds, wholesale, and retail fully grown watermelons. It is incredible how much the watermelon market contributes to the Chinese economy and global market. Historically, in the United States, before and after the Civil War, enslaved and free Black Americans who owned or occupied even a tiny plot of land could raise and sell watermelons to establish financial independence. Watermelon was one of the few commodities that aided a path to financial freedom, so how did this watermelon cash crop fruit diminish significantly for Black farms over time?
Why did selling and eating watermelon get tangled in racism, particularly for Black people and the Black farmer? Unfortunately, at a crucial part in history, particularly during the Reconstruction Period, the more successful and prominent Black watermelon farmers became economic threats in the American South. More about this story later. The 290 billion industry for China helps to provide for 60% of the world’s watermelon supply.
Watermelon is a fruit desired globally. World Atlas (2023) reports that other watermelon-producing countries are Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Algeria, The United States, Russia, Egypt, and Mexico. So, growing watermelon in the United States was a game changer for Black Americans. It could still be. Growing watermelon on a scalable basis- can be a good source of income. Most commercial watermelon growers start the crop from seeds (hybrids) in an indoor protected environment. They prepare the field as they wait for the young seedlings to grow and be ready for transplanting.
Rettler mentions (2019) that watermelon originally came from Western Africa. In the 7th century, they became cultivated in India, and in the 10th century, they reached China. Watermelons were introduced in Spain (Cordoba in 961 and Seville in 1158). After being popularized throughout southern Europe, the fruit started appearing in herbals in 1600 and was a popular minor garden crop.”
Rettler (2019) also mentions that European colonists and enslaved people from Africa introduced the watermelon to the “New World.” Spanish settlers were growing it in Florida in 1576. It was being developed in Massachusetts by 1629, and by 1650 was being cultivated in Peru, Brazil, and Panama. Native Americans also began growing watermelon around the Mississippi. Valley and Florida. I will discuss more in the following article, part II.
The Narrative Matters!
Black, W. (2014). How watermelons became a racist trope. The Atlantic, 8(December). https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/12/how-watermelons-became-a-racist-trope/383529/
Black, W. R. (2018). How Watermelons Became Black: Emancipation and the Origins of a Racist Trope. Journal of the Civil War Era, 8(1), 64–86. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26381503
Cook, R. (June 29, 2021). Ranking Of States That Produce The Most Watermelons. Ranking Of States That Produce The Most Watermelons – Beef2Live | Eat Beef * Live Better
Manivannan A, Lee ES, Han K, Lee HE, Kim DS. Versatile Nutraceutical Potentials of Watermelon-A Modest Fruit Loaded with Pharmaceutically Valuable Phytochemicals. Molecules. 2020 Nov 11;25(22):5258. doi: 10.3390/molecules25225258. PMID: 33187365; PMCID: PMC7698065.
NWA.(2023).National Watermelon Association. https://www.watermelon.ag/
Rettler, C. (October 20, 2019). The Watermelon Industry. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/28737f4e9ea44ab9bedcdd3720870c
World Atlas. (2023). Top Watermelon Producing Countries In The World. Top Watermelon Producing Countries In The World – WorldAtlas