A worker, standing in a converted school bus, unloads watermelons onto a conveyor belt. They will go into the Frey Farms packing-house and be graded. To reduce waste, watermelons with seeds will be turned into juice and sold under the Tsamma label. / Photos and video by J.D. Vivian

You know that food waste is a problem when casinos in Las Vegas — which boasts the long-established and well-deserved title of “Sin City” — start shipping leftover food to a pig farm in southern Nevada, where thousands of the animals “feast on lobster, sausage links and truffle mac and cheese.” *

Closer to home, farmers in the Sunshine State also are playing an important part in reducing the estimated 30 to 40 percent of food nationwide that winds up in landfills (source: www.usda.gov/foodwaste/faqs).

Sarah Frey of Frey Farms, for example, started a new brand of juices, Tsamma, that uses seeded watermelons and other fresh fruits to produce juice. She came up with the idea at the 2014 National Watermelon Board meeting in Savannah, Ga.

“No one had put cold-pressed watermelon in a bottle,” explains Frey, who lives in Naples, Fla., part of the year and in Illinois the rest. “It’s the perfect way to utilize crops that might otherwise go to waste, since we use only seeded melons for Tsamma juice.”

Cold-pressing limits the temperature during the juicing process, so flavor is retained. The product line is named after the wild melon Namib tsamma, found in areas in Africa, including the Namib Desert, and used for hydration.

At a luncheon at the Port LaBelle Inn, waitstaff members served Sarah’s Homegrown Aguas Frescas as well as two Tsamma juices, watermelon and watermelon-blueberry. (Chef Jason Boyer of the Port LaBelle Inn will be Florida Food & Farm‘s featured Chef Tastemaker for June. He buys produce from local suppliers and grows crops on the grounds of the inn, in LaBelle.)

Seeded watermelons are culled from the tens of thousands of melons that roll through Frey Farms’ LaBelle packing-house daily. The seedless melons that pass inspection in the packing-house and are deemed good for market are sorted by size and weight and put into their respective boxes for shipment.

Video shows the melon-sorting process


The 800-acre farm, which recently hosted a tour for members of the media, also grows oranges and cover crops, including sugar cane. The largest crop by far, though, is watermelons. Altogether, the farm ships out 16,000 tons — that’s 23 million pounds — of produce annually, Frey says.

Farmers help in other ways, too

There are other ways, besides “re-purposing” produce, that farmers help the planet. For instance, buying old school buses and converting them to watermelon-haulers makes good economic and environmental sense, says John Frey, executive vice president of Frey Farms and one of Sarah’s brothers: “We call it ‘recycling.'”

Workers load watermelons into a former school bus at Frey Farms. Once the bus is filled with melons, it will be driven to the packing-house and back up to the unloading dock.

Bought at auction for less than $10,000, each bus then will have its windows, all seats except the driver’s, and most all of its upper half removed.

Ag is big “biz” in Florida

Agriculture in Florida is second only to tourism in financial value to the state’s economy. That’s because the state’s farmers — thanks to Florida’s year-round growing season — provide food nationwide.

But even here at home, Florida farmers provide huge amounts of fresh produce to local retail outlets. For example, in 2018, the almost 1,500 Subway outlets in the state bought 74 million pounds of seasonal produce from Florida growers, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Another way that Florida growers help to make the most of the rapidly diminishing supply of farmland is by using “cover” crops — those that improve the soil.

Melissa Hunt, a marketing representative and client-relations manager for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, also visited Frey Farms’ LaBelle facility on the recent tour.

“The crop rotation process — with the watermelons and sugar cane — and seeing the beehives in the fields are examples of how farmers have to know the land they are working and how they are good stewards of that land.”

Another Frey venture is on the horizon

With soda sales declining, Sarah Frey believes that her Sarah’s Homegrown Aguas Frescas (Spanish for “Fresh Waters”) line of frozen juice-drink mixes is ripe for growth. She says “Flavored waters and artisanal carbonated beverages are where we’ll see the most growth moving forward. Consumers are demanding a clean label and transparency with sourcing.”

There is another benefit, she notes: “As the Sarah’s Homegrown brand and product lines grow, more of our total crop production will be utilized, impacting our overall trips and reducing food waste.”

* Editor’s note: “Las Vegas casinos trying to reduce food waste” is an April 28, 2019, story by Regina Garcia Cano of the Associated Press. The article goes on to explain “The farm’s 5,000 pigs are fed boiled food scraps exclusively. Trucks haul 25 tons to 35 tons of food a day from the (Las Vegas) Strip to the farm.”