Valley Bounty: Canteloupe

Late August is exciting because it brings the short window here in the Valley when local cantaloupe is in season. I recently spoke with Charlie and Marla Pignatare, owners of Pignatare’s Farm in Westfield. The pair explained that their cantaloupe harvest began on August 15 and will wrap up as early as the first week of September.

Fortunately, this year’s cantaloupe season is looking fantastic. “The weather has been ideal for cantaloupe,” Charlie explained. While growing cantaloupe, the Pignatares hope for a careful balance in the weather. “Too much rain and it can make them rot,” Charlie told me. “Too little rain and they won’t size up.” In 2018, the wet weather devastated the cantaloupe harvest. “We had so much rain the ground never dried out. Nothing did well and the melons took a big hit. They weren’t very sweet and there wasn’t much of a crop.” 2019, on the other hand, is looking great and the Pignatares are full steam ahead harvesting their acres of melons.

Cantaloupes ripen on the vine from a green color to a deep yellow tinged with brown. When looking for the perfectly ripe melon at your local farm stand or market, that deep yellow is a sure sign of a tasty melon. The Pignatares also recommend a trick for determining a melon’s ripeness: smell the stem. “When it’s not ripe, it won’t smell at all,” Charlie told me. But when the melon is ripe, “the stem will have a distinct, sweet smell.”

This time of year brings a lot more than cantaloupe—it’s the height of the growing season and fresh crops are flowing in from local farmers’ fields Marla, who runs the farm stand at Pignatare’s Farm, told me that their display is quite a sight to see this time of year. “Between all the zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, cabbages, all the fruits, and much more, it’s just so colorful right now.” Beyond the farm’s vast bounty, Marla explained that many customers are attracted to the stand because they participate in the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). HIP is a program that provides an instant rebate to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) participants when they buy from local farm stands, CSA’s, and farmers’ markets. “A lot of people seek out our stand because we participate in the program,” Marla told me. For the Pignatares, it’s great to see the boost in business as more people in their community are able to access fresh, locally grown produce. “A lot of people share that they’re so thankful for the program because they don’t know how they would get through each month without it.”

Whether you participate in HIP or not, it’s a great time of year to find a farm stand near you. If you pick up a fresh cantaloupe, the Pignatares recommend slicing the melon in half and filling the natural bowl of the fruit with a few scoops of ice cream. It’s a sweet treat during the heat of summer!

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)