Stickers source watermelons to California farm

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that at a farm in Manteca, in San Joaquin County, workers smack labels onto watermelons freshly cut from the vine, each sticker bearing a unique string of letters and numbers that identifies where they were harvested.

Ryan Van Groningen of Van Groningen & Sons Farms, which sells watermelons under the Yosemite Fresh brand, said,

"With food safety as big as it is, we can give each watermelon its own code so a consumer can check on the Internet to see where it is grown.”

This new code, called the HarvestMark, is being developed by the Redwood City startup YottaMark Inc. at a time when Congress is considering food-safety legislation that could make some type of tracking system mandatory.

In advance of any legal mandate, a few growers have started putting HarvestMark codes on products like plastic-packaged grapes and strawberries, as well as watermelons.

The idea is to enable a consumer to type the 16-digit tracking code into a locator field at HarvestMark.com to learn where the product was grown. Depending on the grower’s records and what the farm chooses to reveal, the system could detail the date and part of the field where the product originated.

Great idea.

A decade ago, I advised the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers – whose cluster tomatoes still dominate supermarket shelves in Florida in the middle of summer – to do something similar, to market their food safety efforts directly to the concerned consumer.

For other produce producers, forget government babysitters and the non-niceties of offending other growers … growers who maybe aren’t so good at food safety.

Go further. Put a url on the sticker so concerned shoppers can check out a web site with video, not just about where a commodity was grown, but about food safety standards, and real-time test results for water quality and product sampling.

And then market it.