Meet Cantaloupe Farmer Bud Smith

Bud Smith with CataloupesFarmer Bud Smith shares cantaloupes with the co-op, and a bit of wisdom.

Bud Smith picks up a fragrant melon from a large pile and points out the indentation of a deer hoof. It seems everybody likes Indiana cantaloupe, not just people. “Coyotes love cantaloupe. There’s not many animals that don’t like ‘em—raccoons, deer, rabbit…” he said.

Smith still loves cantaloupe himself after more than 70 years raising it. At the age of 82, he supplies Bloomingfoods with local melons, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, and squash. “When I was six years old I sold melons out at the Indianapolis Farmer’s Market, back when they were 10 or 15 cents apiece,” Smith said.

Melons feature prominently in a Smith family history book, with one aged black and white photo standing out. It’s Smith’s grandfather, Walter “Doc” Smith, posing with a triple cantaloupe, which are the Siamese twins of the melon world, and about as rare. Smith found a few doubles in his fields this year, but he’s never seen a triple.

Doc Smith grew up raising melons around Washington, Indiana, and moved up to Knox County to start his own farm. He brought the first Cadillac to Knox County, and built the first two-story house. Bud’s father bought property by Bean Blossom Creek in 1938, and melons have been farmed on the land ever since.

Today, Smith lives in the house his father built with Barbara, his wife of 57 years. Their son lives in a log cabin down the hill, one daughter lives nearby, and their other daughter lives in Fort Wayne. Seven of the ten grandchildren are in college, but many come by in the summer to help pick.

Despite having seven bypasses over the years, Smith continues to farm enthusiastically. “My wife tells me, when I can’t enjoy it any more, quit,” he said. But so far that hasn’t happened. He spends his winters planning the next growing season, and his summers planting, tending, harvesting, and bringing his crops to custome

Having family around is key to the farm’s ongoing success. Grandsons Tyler and Nash help out a great deal, but everyone turns out for the big push in harvest season. “If we didn’t have family and they didn’t have friends, we couldn’t harvest,” Smith said.

Running a small farm is no easy proposition, and Smith knows it can be staggeringly difficult for new farmers to make a go of it. He counts himself lucky for owning his land and equipment, both of which have grown prohibitively expensive since he started out. “You can run into fifty thousand dollars in equipment,” he said.

His own farm has downsized a bit over the years; from the original 34 acres his father purchased, Smith now works ten, and he has gone down from seven or eight tractors to three or four. Smith’s nephew is growing the pumpkin crop this year in Knox County.

No matter how long you’re a farmer, certain things just can’t be predicted. This year, for example, the cantaloupes were carefully planted at different times in the hopes that they would become ripe steadily throughout the summer. Instead, weather conditions transpired to make a huge number grow ripe at once, and there were too many for market.

“You hate to see all those melons lying out there when you know they’re so good to eat,” Smith said.

Likewise, suppliers can’t always be counted on to provide exactly what you want. This year, when Smith sent away to his regular seed company an order for 5,000 Saticoy cantaloupe seeds, the company announced that his favorite melon was being discontinued.

“They sent us 4,100 and told us that they wouldn’t have any more,” he said. It is too small of a melon, the company said, and consumers want them larger; other distributors are doing the same thing. He’ll be sticking to Divas and Aphrodites next summer, with a few Saticoys for  the family table.

Through the challenges and unpredictability of farming, Smith keeps his chin up with a piece of wisdom friends shared with him years ago, which is that there is always room in the world for something good, whether it’s a beautiful voice, a knack for numbers, or a honey-sweet melon.

“That’s something I’ve always had in the back of my mind,” Smith said.