NEWCOMERSTOWN, Ohio – This farm office is a flurry of activity.
George Darr and his intern sit facing one another in the Sunset Acres second-floor farm office, dialing or answering the phone almost nonstop.
Intern Lacie Kees tells a store’s produce buyer yes, we have zucchini today, and yes, we’ve got fresh sweet corn. She jots down the order.
Darr and Kees both confirm the next sale, hang up, and start dialing again.
The crops manager and retail manager and crew manager have all climbed the steps to the office and wait their turn to run things past the boss.
Who’s going where, who’s doing what, who needs what, who has what.
A few nods and they’re out the door.
The phone keeps ringing, and Darr keeps answering. There are sales to make to chains, individuals and markets from here to Columbus and Cleveland and Wheeling, W.Va.
Welcome to Darr’s Sunset Acres, a fast-paced farm business whose specialty is wholesale fruits and vegetables.
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Darr’s farm is probably most famous for its homegrown sweet corn and cantaloupes, the owner says.
Though the farm is mostly wholesale, Darr still maintains a roadside tent along Interstate 77.
The tent’s tables feature piles of corn and tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchini. Watermelons and cantaloupes and other fresh produce round out the line.
The outlet opens the first day of sweet corn season. This year, the corn came July 16, and it’s been a madhouse ever since.
“Everything’s just all at once,” says Darr from his office overlooking the main building’s shipping and receiving docks.
A tow motor buzzes around the football field-sized warehouse, lifting crates of sweet corn or watermelons into stacks or sliding pallets into waiting box trucks.
The doors close and away they go.
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In addition to growing his own vegetables and melons, Darr is a commercial watermelon repacker. He works with brokers to store and ship and receive melons for local groceries and markets.
At times, like around July Fourth, employees processed 10 semis per day, trucks snaking along the driveway and down the road, waiting to unload or load melons.
With 40,000 pounds of the fruit piled on each truck, it’s a hurried, around-the-clock operation. There’s always another load on the way.
Darr fielded a call one morning from a seller desperate for help: His semi load of melons had been rejected at the retail end, and he needed someone to unload, sort and repack the good ones. He’d try again to get them into the store’s produce department.
Darr agreed to the task. He’d pull his crews from picking corn or cantaloupes or green peppers and station them on the watermelon line.
Darr steals a few minutes away from his office for lunch in town at April’s Country Kitch’n. He drops cash at the register and motors off to his next task: He’s got to meet that truck of watermelons at the interstate truck stop.
Darr identifies the truck headed to his farm and climbs onto the rig’s running boards to give directions to the driver.
Heading back through town with the truck on his tail, Darr arrives at a friend’s factory – he doesn’t own scales, so he ‘borrows’ –
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