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Melons: ripe and sweet and ready to eat

By Steve Ranson Nevada News Group

Lahontan Valley grower Rick Lattin can gauge the success of his crops with the summer weather.

Earlier in the growing season, though, Lattin said the unusual weather pattern in the spring produced frost and wind, and the melons didn’t pollinate.

Move forward to the end of August, and the summer’s consistently hot, dry weather in the valley contrasts the earlier weather which Lattin said, was cold and windy.

“We’ll have a bumper crop with (at least) four to five melons on each plant,” he said.

The popular melons won’t be sold at the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair because the state’s coronavirus pandemic’s restrictions forced the cancellation of Nevada’s longest-running agricultural show. Organizers said the restrictions not to allow more than 50 people at an event and social distancing were major factors to cancel the 35th annual festival. Instead, a mini-cantaloupe market is planned for Saturday at Lattin Farms (1455 McLean Road) from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition to the melon sales, Lattin Farms will also have vendors and “Outdoor Lazer Tag.”

Lattin said patrons must wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Kelli Kelley, director of the Fallon Food Hub, said the Farmers Market was cancelled for this weekend at its downtown location.

“The regular market was scheduled to have a break for the Cantaloupe Festival so when the festival was cancelled, the alternative event was planned,” she said. “It seems like the cantaloupe harvest has been abundant. Both Pioneer Farms and Lattin Farms are harvesting Hearts of Gold cantaloupes.”

On a Monday morning tour of the Lattin Farms fields west of Fallon, Lattin inspected the melons planted north of the main produce stand. Most of the melons are planted on about 10 acres of land, while 200 acres is producing alfalfa, mostly earmarked for the dairies.

Lattin said this week will be a major one for harvesting more melons and preparing them for sale. While many consumers prefer Hearts of Gold during this time of year, Lattin quickly points out other melons are just as good.

“We’ve done a pretty good job on Sarah’s Choice,” he said.

Lattin said Sarah’s Choice is a larger melon than the Hearts of Gold. He said the melon is sweet and juicy and abundant. He also said the Sugar Cube variety is a good cantaloupe.

Yet, he said nothing is better than the Hearts of Gold.

“It’s hard to get a perfect Hearts of Gold,” he pointed out. “It’s a fussy melon, and it doesn’t last long … it goes mush.”

As with Sarah’s Choice, Lattin said the Hearts of Gold is also sweet and juicy.

Lattin Farms also has other popular melons: Ambrosias, Sugar Cube, Canary and Crenshaw … to name a few. He said the Ambrosias is a melon grown extensively in California, and sold at many of Northern Nevada’s produce stands and markets. Lattin said the wide appeal of Ambrosias has made an impact with area consumers, and it’s the type cantaloupe sweet and large enough to be sliced in half and filled with ice cream.

The Hearts of Gold cantaloupe has had a storied history in the Lahontan Valley, and it was grown extensively in the 1920s and 1930s.

According to previous accounts, “Fallon produced the ‘king of cantaloupes’ and virtually cornered the market with a reputation for jumbo-sized melons with unmatched sweetness. The cantaloupes were coveted by some of the most exclusive restaurants in Reno, San Francisco and Salt Lake City, and shipped east to markets in New York.”

The boom period in the 1920s saw farms growing Hearts of Gold melons on more than 500 acres in Fallon and around Fernley in the Farm District area.

In the mid-1980s, the cantaloupe made a big return for Northern Nevada consumers with the inauguration of the cantaloupe festival. This year’s Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair would’ve been celebrating its 35th year.

Lattin said his family has been growing melons, and particularly the Hearts of Gold for decades, He remembers growing melons with a friend, Elwood Koenig, for their 4-H and FFA projects in 1962. A break occurred when the friends ventured off to either college, the military or both. Lattin, though, said he resumed growing cantaloupes in the early 1970s while still working for the State of Nevada.

During the past six decades, he said different producers grew the melons In the 1960s. Lattin said Workman Farms was a big grower, and then followed by the Venturaccis.

Over the years, Lattin also said Fallon has become known for is small roadside produce stands that have a local clientele.

“We’re not big because we don’t ship across the country,” he said.

In addition to Saturday’s mini-cantaloupe festival, Lattin said local cantaloupe growers are encouraged to bring their melons to Lattin Farms on Friday for judging, and awards will be given on Saturday for categories such as biggest cantaloupe, sweetest and so on.