Delfino Perry had no idea he was planting the seeds 81 years ago for what would become the West Coast’s largest melon brokering and growing firm.
He was just pursuing his dream of a better life in America with the aim of keeping family together and faith in God strong.
Today that dream is going strong with three generations working side-by-side year round bringing farmers and retailers together by growing, brokering and distributing a wide repertoire of melons including watermelons and pumpkins
The success of Perry & Sons is being showcased Thursday during the monthly 7 p.m. meeting of the Manteca Historical Society at the museum, 600 W. Yosemite Ave. Defino’s grandson Art Perry will handle the presentation while Defino’s son — George Perry who is 97 and his wife Violet — are expected to be present as well.
Some 1,000 plus trucks will have rolled out of Perry & Son’s Manteca yard laden with pumpkins by Halloween. It is part of the 55,000 tons of pumpkins grown in the area. Another major player in pumpkin shipping is Van Groningen & Sons east of Manteca.
Delfino left the Azores in 1906 via Ellis Island. He ended up in California in 1906 first landing in San Luis Obispo and the Oakland and eventually making his way to Modesto before settling Manteca.
He started a small dairy on Jack Tone Road and started growing sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and watermelons. His brother farmed on Brunswick Road where the Perry & Sons main yard is now located just north of Manteca.
During the Great Depression, his brother opted to find employment in Oakland which is how Delfino came to farm on Brunswick Road.
Art started working on the farm at an early age. His father George Sr. kept having to stop and get off the tractor while he was working the field and then get back on and move again. That is what prompted George Sr. to teach 5-year-old Art how to drive the tractor so he could be more efficient doing his work.
Perry & Sons pumpkins
started on handshake
George Perry & Sons’ pumpkin business was born on a handshake with the late Antone Raymus. George Sr. wanted to farm acreage that Raymus owned near the old Summer Home School on Cottage Avenue.
They came to an agreement that Raymus would get a share of the crop receipts as payment for use of the land. When George Sr. wanted to put it in writing Raymus refused noting that a handshake was good enough for him.
It is that philosophy of “doing the right thing” by customers that has made the name “Perry & Son” synonymous with quality and dependability among clients ranging from chain stores to chain restaurants.
While Perry & Sons is a dominate force in the California watermelon and pumpkin market, they have also extended sales farther east to Colorado and even New Jersey thanks to firms looking for assurances of quality and timely delivery.
Manteca is the major source of California pumpkins with roughly 80 percent of the commercial crop grown around the community. It is for the same reason watermelons that come from here are considered among the best thanks to soil conditions, hot days, and cool nights.
Perry & Sons
move a lot
George Perry & Sons has come a long way since George Sr. planted his first four acres of pumpkins on Cottage Avenue near Southland Road in 1958. Back then, the pumpkins and melons were tossed into the back of a truck and dropped off at markets. Today, family members equipped with smartphones and accessing I-Trade on the Internet grow, sell, and broker enough melons to keep trucks rolling a day to markets up and down the West Coast as well as Canada.
They are also have just wound down the Manteca watermelon harvest 102 years after Ed Powers shipped the first rail car of the fruit grown for the first time in 1914 in the fabled sandy plains before irrigation transformed the area into an oasis for orchards and vineyards.
The firm has built working relationships with growers in Arizona, Mexico, the Imperial Valley, and the San Joaquin Valley to move to market a wide variety of melons and squash throughout the year. They’re most noted for pumpkins as they are literally the biggest pumpkin brokers in the West and Manteca the largest pumpkin-growing region on the Pacific Coast.
California’s climate — plus its location close to arid areas such as Mexico and Arizona that can grow fruit and vegetables in the winter months — gives Golden State consumers the freshest and most varied produce in the world.
The family has applied science, with marketing, business savvy, personal relationships, farm know-how, and even international business expertise to become a force in the melon business. Perry & Sons ship as far away as Japan.
But it is what they — and other growers — have done with the melon itself that is the most important.
Back when George Sr. started out markets wanted big 20-pound watermelons that were known as “stripers” for what appears as alternating yellow and green stripes. Then it was the bright green watermelons.
Today there are numerous species with “numbered variations” such as the one that develops the sweetest watermelon from Manteca soil. Consumers started eating more watermelon when growers found ways to give them the seedless variety they wanted by cross-pollination.
The most recent rage is so-called personal watermelons.