June 30, 2017
By Debra Davis
Brie and Trav Foster inspect their watermelon crop, which could yield up to 20,000 pounds of melons per acre. This is their third year growing the summertime treat on their Lowndes County farm.
Determination, courage and youthful optimism provided the perfect combination for a Fort Deposit young farmer to follow his dream.
After graduating with a degree in finance from Harding University, Trav Foster, 23, turned down a lucrative corporate job to follow his heart and return home to farm.
“I only own the acre our house is on, and I don’t own any equipment. But I knew this was what I wanted to do,” Trav said. “Growing up, my dad had cows and hay, so I’m familiar with that side of farming. But row crop farming was new to me. I wanted to learn all I could about it.
“I went to work for Steve Tanner, who has a large farm in Greenville. He’s taught me so much —more than I ever could learn from a book. He’s an outstanding farmer.”
With a desire to grow a crop of his own, Trav leased a few acres, borrowed equipment from his father, Steve Foster, and planted his first 5 acres of watermelons three years ago. That first year was difficult, but the experience was educational, Trav said.
“There’s a lot more to growing watermelons than putting seed in the ground,” he said. “I learned a lot from my own mistakes, and I had help from some local farmers.”
A pair of Lowndes County brothers, Zollie and Henry “Debo” Heartsill, have grown watermelons for decades. They helped him make a go of it, Trav said, adding that their advice was invaluable.
Trav and his wife, Brie, met in college and married about a year ago. She said she knew Trav wanted to return home to farm, and it would be a big change from her hometown of Long Island, New York. The speech pathology student said she loves the country and helping her husband farm.
“He’s so passionate about it,” she said. “It’s hard work, but it’s so satisfying.”
With his third crop of watermelons set for harvest this month, Trav is optimistic about the 20 acres he planted. He said he hopes to harvest as much as 20,000 pounds per acre.
“Last year, we had 11 acres and did pretty well,” he said. “We developed more customers, and my dad helped me get a deal with the Piggly Wiggly store in Camden to sell our watermelons.”
Trav increased his acreage after meeting Will Dodd of Heirloom Harvest at the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference in November. Connections there helped increase his market opportunities.
So, each day, after working nearly 12 hours at Tanner’s farm, Trav heads home to tend to his own fields till sundown.
“One day I’d like to plant my own row crops and see our operation grow,” he said. “But I don’t think you have to have a big farm to be successful. I think Alabama’s future in growing fruits and vegetables is ripe for the picking.”