June 29, 2006
Cordele--Many people believe they must eat a watermelon on the July 4th holiday, and one man wants to make sure millions of Americans get all they want. But a key person in his life doesn't particularly like all the attention the melons get this time of year.
Some people love their jobs so much they look at them as vacations, rating as more than workaholics. Take Bill Dorough, who has loads of responsibility. He makes sure a half- million watermelons change hands everyday to many satisfied buyers and sellers.
"Watermelons come from everywhere," says Bill, as he rides in a golf cart, making his morning rounds of the Cordele Farmers' Market. He manages the world's largest watermelon market, a state owned facility in Cordele, where his busiest time comes eight weeks before July 4th .
"I enjoy my job," says Bill, during the most stressful week of the year, but you wouldn't know it by riding with him. "Out here you have to have an easy-going personality or it will drive you crazy."
Buyers must make sure the watermelons reach stores before the holiday. Farmers usually get the best prices, too, since more watermelons get eaten on the July 4th than any other time of year. Often, after the holiday, prices can drop so low that farmers don't make a profit, so they often leave the melons in the fields to rot.
"Anywhere from seven to 10 million pounds of watermelons a day pass through the market during the season's peak," says Bill. Watermelons get shipped far and wide. One load heads to Michigan. Others go to the northeast and points in between.
But don't expect Bill to leave his beloved watermelon country. "I was born and raised on a farm growing watermelons, 72 years ago," says Bill, qualifying him a grower's best friend. "Quick as he finds out, he lets you know what the going price is," says Albert Weaver, a grower who has known Bill for at least 35 years.
Buyers and sellers welcome price information in such a volatile market where minutes can separate a profit from a loss. Bill has a genetic tie to the market he loves so much. "My father grew watermelons and was a county commissioner who helped build the market in 1947," says Bill who remembers when it was an open area.
Sheds would come later to protect the produce from the intense sun and heat. Little did Bill's father know his son would manage it one day. Bill started at the bottom and literally worked his way up loading watermelons into boxcars, often six hours a day. "I was a young man then," says Bill. But, an important person in Bill's life wishes he would wash away some of that intense feeling of responsibility. "When its watermelon season, I get angry and ill and hard to live with cause I'm a watermelon widow," says a smiling Barbara Dorough, his wife.
She will have the title until July 4th when Bill will stop those 12-hour days because the rush to buy watermelons will have come to a juicy end. Bill finds the size of watermelons has changed over his 60-year involvement. Consumers want much smaller ones, some weighing as little as 10 pounds each.