Farmer recalls the heyday of melons Book, preservation of seeds planned

August 12, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

Two short rows of melons grow behind Reynold P. Bunk Sr.'s house in Pasadena, all that's left of his days as an Anne Arundel County truck farmer.

But the 80-year-old retired melon man doesn't want his memories, or the produce itself, to die out.

That's why he is planning a book about his experiences and trying to market seeds he kept from two strains of green melons he grew in his younger days.

"They're the most flavorful," he says. "This season, I hope to have

the seeds of both oval Long Johns and round green melons. I plan to send them to some major seed companies to see if they will perpetuate them. I would not like them to be lost."

Mr. Bunk isn't the only one trying to preserve this aspect of Maryland history.

The Jones Station Farmers' Market in Severna Park, in its second season, is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture as a reminder of the time

when much of Anne Arundel County relied on farming for its income. Will Mumford, president of the county historical society, also recently completed a book on local truck farming.

The soft, sandy soils of North and Central County were famous for producing juicy cantaloupes, historians note. Arundel produce farmers also profited from their proximity to Baltimore markets and from immigrant labor to work the truck farms.

There were many one-horse truck farms in the county, Mr. Bunk recalls. "We were about a

See MELON, 8B

From 1B

horse and a half," he says.

For those such as Mr. Bunk, who left elementary school to work on the 47-acre family farm a half-mile from where he now lives on Woodland Road in Millersville, truck farming defined life.

It was the hardest kind of farming there was, outside of dairy farming, he says. Produce, such as his favorite melons, had to be picked the instant they were ready.

"You went out barefoot in the hot sun, with just shorts and a straw hat," Mr. Bunk says. "Nobody would work like that now."

It was economically shaky, too, because produce prices fluctuated as much as 50 cents from one day to the next. Sometimes, farmers would pay workers to pick the produce only to be unable to sell it.

Mr. Bunk received 15 cents a week in allowance when he was 15.

At that time, life centered around the church -- in Mr. Bunk's case Christ Lutheran in Elvaton. He recalls arriving there before 5 a.m. on Sundays in the winter to light the fires so the building would be warm by the time services started.

And melons provided the family living. On the "best week" Mr. Bunk remembers, the farm sold 1,500 baskets, with about eight melons to a basket.

The largest melon farm he knew once took 2,500 baskets, or 12 truck loads, to market.

But the melons with the best shapes and ribs never made it to market. They were set aside so their seeds could be used for next year's crop.

The melons were picked while rough and "turning," not yet ripe. The next day they were primed and culled. The third day they were taken to Baltimore to the markets, where hucksters bought them to sell in the streets, with the cry: ANNE-RAN-DUL-CAN-AH-LOPES.

Used to be, everybody preferred the green-fleshed muskmelons pink melons, or cantaloupes, Mr. Bunk says.

Before World War II, during the heyday of county truck farming, green melons such as "Bottomly" dominated the Baltimore market so completely that nobody would buy the "salmon-fleshed" melons he planted in 1934. He finally sold the 280 baskets to a trucker from Penn

sylvania.

But the era when Anne Arundel County's produce dominated the market didn't last long after World War II. Local farmers gradually lost their monopoly when refrigerated trucks rolled into the city from farms as far south as Georgia, writes Isabel Shipley Cunningham in her pamphlet, "The Pickers of Anne Arundel County".

Mr. Bunk's life as an active truck-farmer ended sooner, when he got pneumonia in 1937 and, in an age without sulfa drugs, almost died.

Unable to work for months, he lost the farm. When he recovered, he went into shipyard construction, traveling to 14 foreign countries and 36 states. In those days, he says, "It wasn't a question of what you liked. It was what you had to do. There weren't any jobs."

But everywhere he and his wife, Margaret, went, they had a garden to grow melons.

"At high elevation, they didn't grow real well," he recalls. "But I don't think we bought 10 melons out of a store in our life. I was born a

farmer, and I'll die a farmer, I guess."

Now retired, Mr. Bunk treasures his seeds and tells melon stories. And he loves to chuckle over the silly things he's seen people do to "check out" a melon.

"It's amazing the acts people go through to determine the ripeness of a cantaloupe," Mr. Bunk says.

"I saw an elderly gentleman in a supermarket picking one melon after another and shaking them. He said if they rattled, they were ripe."

But, Mr. Bunk explains, shaking only loosens the seeds inside, which abuses the melon.

"You should not hear the seeds shake," he says.

Some press the blossom end. Others pinch the melons, or roll them from side to side.

Mr. Bunk says the real test is a good orange-yellow color and a good aroma -- "a delightful, savory smell.

"If the muskmelons are picked in a hot, dry season and on good sandy soil, such as in Anne Arundel County, they should taste good," he says. "But if a three-day rain comes, they won't taste near as good."

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