Brad Wonning’s father opened operations in Vincennes in 1964, and Brad has worked in the fields and packing lines since he was a boy, helping to harvest more than 90 acres of cantaloupe and 130 acres of watermelon.
“We have a lot of pride. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers did this,” Wonning says. “It’s our heritage.”
Less than 10 miles from the town of Decker, Wonning Melon Farms is located within an area famous for growing melons since the 1800s. Southern Indiana cantaloupe and watermelon growers like Wonning regularly face challenges as they prepare for harvest, but FDA plans to inspect every cantaloupe operation in the U.S. this year brings added difficulties.
The FDA recently announced the inspections in response to a pair of bacterial outbreaks. One of those was traced back to salmonella from cantaloupes grown at Chamberlain Farms in Owensville.
The other was a 2011 listeria outbreak that originated in Colorado and was responsible for two deaths in Kentucky and more than 170 illnesses in 21 states Wonning, who attended a workshop in Vincennes Wednesday to learn about FDA requirements, says the need for a safe harvest and the potential FDA inspections make packinghouse preparation critical.
“We really want to make sure [an outbreak] doesn’t happen again,” says Wonning. “We have a lot of pressure on us to do everything right.”
Purdue Extension is helping growers by hosting a series of preparatory workshops,, which included the event in Vincennes . The program shows growers how to better prepare their packinghouses for the upcoming harvest and update them on current FDA inspection activities.
“Let’s face it, there’s a need to step up and find out what’s going on,” says Scott Monroe, Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator with Purdue Extension. “The entire industry is doing everything it can to reduce those factors that may introduce risk into the system.”
Each session in the program aims to educate farmers about what they can do to help reduce the risk of food borne illness or outbreak. Monroe and his training team have based the information they present off of what colleagues in North Carolina and Florida have relayed from their own federal audits.
The Vincennes workshop was the second in a series of three being offered this week. Combined attendance so far has reached 40 to 50 farmers, and Monroe says he expects another 20 or so to attend Friday’s session in Poseyville.
The program is a continuation of efforts over the year to support Indiana farmers; the Extension network has hosted similar events in recent months, including a training session on audit protocol.
“It really is a process from farm to fork and everybody shares a little bit of that responsibility,” Monroe says. “Our goal is to help these guys to do everything they can on their individual farms to produce the most safe and wholesome product that we possibly can.”
Jinghua Tu contributed to this story.