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The disappearing Pecos cantaloupe

A very Texas story.

Beto Mandujano jabbed his kitchen knife through the rough, yellow rind of the Pecos cantaloupe he had scooped from the ground. The melon’s dense flesh glistened with juice, its color a deep orange.

Many Texans swear these cantaloupes are the best anyone can find. But today, Pecos cantaloupes are on the verge of extinction. Mandujano and his two brothers are the last farmers selling them on a large scale.

A number of factors explain this decline. The most recent, obvious culprit is oil.

Pecos, a city of roughly 10,000 on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, feels like a middle-of-nowhere boomtown. People see unfamiliar faces in Walmart. They steer cautiously among big trucks barreling down their small country roads.

Industry is redefining this place, as it has many Texas towns before it. Oil and gas equipment stands on hot, dusty, empty fields. Farming and ranching once central to the Pecos region now seem to have faded into the background.

Texas farmers harvested nearly 10,000 acres of cantaloupe in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That fell to 1,300 acres in 2017.

Around Pecos, harvested acreage plummeted from more than 2,000 in 1969 to roughly a tenth of that amount in 2017. The Mandujanos planted 260 acres of the crop this year, along with other produce.

For a century, farmers planted cantaloupes around Pecos. Like Fredericksburg peaches, or East Texas tomatoes, their reputation was linked to the land.

“It’s a part of Pecos,” 86-year-old resident Carolyn McNeil said. “Pecos cantaloupes.”

It’s an interesting story, and among other things you will learn that cantaloupes are categorized as vegetables. We like cantaloupe at our house, though I can’t honestly say that we’ve had Pecos cantaloupes. Be that as it may, I hope this family and their crop find a way to keep going.

Austin may accelerate its bag ban schedule

They’re considering their options.

The City of Austin might ban the thin plastic and paper bags offered at checkout counters beginning in March 2013 a year earlier than expected and scrap plans to require retailers to charge a fee for such bags in the meantime.

Austin Resource Recovery , the city’s trash and recycling department, has written several drafts of the ban, most recently proposing that retailers charge a fee of 10 cents per single-use bag or $1 per transaction starting in March 2013 before the ban took effect in March 2014 .

But on Thursday, Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert told the City Council that he now thinks skipping the interim fee and enacting the ban sooner would simplify things and prevent disputes between customers and cashiers over how many free, disposable bags the customer needs.

The council is slated to hold a public hearing and vote on the ban March 1. After hearing Gedert’s presentation Thursday, a few council members questioned whether the ban should apply to paper bags as well as plastic.

Under the proposed ban, retailers could offer only reusable bags, defined as those made of cloth or durable materials, or thicker paper and plastic bags that have handles.

The city of Pecos recently gave preliminary approval to a ban of its own, while the city of Midland will discuss the idea in March. Other cities – Brownsville, South Padre Island, Fort Stockton – have adopted similar bans, with varying approaches that include charging fees for single use bags, requring plastic bags to be compostable, and so forth. I don’t know that there’s a single right answer, and it may well be that some combination of requirements will work best. There’s a lot of experimentation going on, so hopefully we’ll learn more. And hopefully the city of Houston will eventually get on this bandwagon. There’s a lot of good we could do by pursuing this.