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cantaloupe

The disappearing Pecos cantaloupe

A very Texas story.

Beto Mandujano jabbed his kitchen knife through the rough, yellow rind of the Pecos cantaloupe he had scooped from the ground. The melon’s dense flesh glistened with juice, its color a deep orange.

Many Texans swear these cantaloupes are the best anyone can find. But today, Pecos cantaloupes are on the verge of extinction. Mandujano and his two brothers are the last farmers selling them on a large scale.

A number of factors explain this decline. The most recent, obvious culprit is oil.

Pecos, a city of roughly 10,000 on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, feels like a middle-of-nowhere boomtown. People see unfamiliar faces in Walmart. They steer cautiously among big trucks barreling down their small country roads.

Industry is redefining this place, as it has many Texas towns before it. Oil and gas equipment stands on hot, dusty, empty fields. Farming and ranching once central to the Pecos region now seem to have faded into the background.

Texas farmers harvested nearly 10,000 acres of cantaloupe in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That fell to 1,300 acres in 2017.

Around Pecos, harvested acreage plummeted from more than 2,000 in 1969 to roughly a tenth of that amount in 2017. The Mandujanos planted 260 acres of the crop this year, along with other produce.

For a century, farmers planted cantaloupes around Pecos. Like Fredericksburg peaches, or East Texas tomatoes, their reputation was linked to the land.

“It’s a part of Pecos,” 86-year-old resident Carolyn McNeil said. “Pecos cantaloupes.”

It’s an interesting story, and among other things you will learn that cantaloupes are categorized as vegetables. We like cantaloupe at our house, though I can’t honestly say that we’ve had Pecos cantaloupes. Be that as it may, I hope this family and their crop find a way to keep going.