The Best Cantaloupe You’ve Ever Tasted

Exceptional souls are often disguised in everyday clothes.

There have been many such souls who have helped Andy and me along in our lives together as farmers, and I hope to be able to tell their stories in the months and years to come. We are ever cognizant of their impact.

Anita and her husband sat down in a local diner one hot and humid summer evening after working in their produce fields all day. The couple had been raising vegetables, fruit, and flowers for years together, selling their seasonal abundance at roadside stands and greenhouses.

As Anita watched their waitress walk away from their table with their order on her notepad, Anita raised her eyebrows as she overheard a conversation from a nearby table. A local farm hand was complaining about how tired he was after working his tractor in a large celery field for eight straight hours.

Anita set her sharp eyes on the man and spoke up.

You’ve been sitting on your rear-end in an air conditioned cab of a tractor while we were out in our fields in this heat picking 300 bushels of sweet corn by hand, she said coolly. And because it’s the weekend, we picked an extra 200 bushels on top of that. So don’t complain to me that you’re hot and tired.

And that was the end of that conversation.

Anita knows hard work, and not the hands-free, machine-operated version predominant in mainstream agriculture today. She and her husband started their business in their early years of marriage, raising their family in a tiny house (and not the fashionable, trendy kind) in between sweaty days like this that were spent in fields of sweet corn and the best cantaloupe you’ve ever tasted.

We can relate to that kind of farming lifestyle.

Anita has been one of the most open-handed friends we’ve known in this business letting out her pastures and excess ground at rates our bootstrapped enterprise can afford, sharing her resources freely, and allowing us to manage the land according to our own values.

If my name were Anne with an e, I’d call her a kindred spirit.

Anita has sadly spent her most recent years in her garden alone, being widowed by cancer too early. But she does still love her garden. Though the greenhouses and heavy equipment were sold many years ago, Anita remains devoted to her flowers and produce, tending them daily with strong hands and a watchful eye.

Directly west of this garden haven of beauty and memory is a pasture where our sheep and chickens were grazing throughout the hot, dry month of July. Every evening, Andy and his two faithful helpers would stop in to check livestock, fill water tanks, and move animals when the grass was running out.

On one such evening, Andy was making his rounds alone. Shortly after turning off the electric fence during feeding time, he saw that a four-month-old lamb had put its head through one of the woven fence panels. He made his way back down the fence line to turn the electricity back on, in order to make sure that lamb knew to stay away from the fence for her own protection.

But sheep are herd animals, so the whole flock followed Andy down to the corner of the pen including the lamb in the fence. Or she tried anyway. Andy turned around too late. He saw that she had, in fact, followed the flock and dragged the whole fence down with her.

The rest of the 20 sheep saw the downed fence in the same moment. They shot out toward the open field, leaped over the now-crumpled heap of stakes and netting, and headed straight for Anita’s neatly tended rows of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and famous cantaloupe.

Andy was mortified. Not the cantaloupe!

He thought fast (an essential survival skill for caretakers of livestock). What could he use to stop the sheep and coax them back to the paddock?

There’s one reward that works for people and sheep alike, all of whom are unalterably predictable in this one affinity: they’re always interested in good food.

Though he didn’t have any sheep grain with him, he did have a little bit of chicken feed left in the bottom of one bucket. He shook the bucket and rattled the metal scoop and tried to convince the sheep it was feeding time.

Big Dorothy noticed and stopped. She quickly turned and came running, along with a few others behind her. In quiet desperation, Andy kept shaking and rattling and pretending to pour non-existent feed in the troughs, like a child mixing up a make-believe cake with his playthings.

Fortunately for Andy (and Anita), gradually they all gathered around the troughs. Before they figured out there was nothing there in which to partake, he had swiftly put the fence back up and turned it back on.

Another near-disaster averted. If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you might wonder if every day on our farm is like this, or if there is ever a normal day where things clip along in a tidy and orderly manner.

We wonder that too.

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