From our family to yours...
Have a Safe and Happy Independence Day!
Will be enjoying the 165th 4th of July Parade in Round Top, Texas - the oldest west of the Mississippi!
Kicks off off at 10:30 a.m. CDT.
For decades, a huge swath of potassium-rich soil just west of Pecos, Texas, produced what many Texans swore were the sweetest and best cantaloupes in the world. But over the past few years, the number of Pecos cantaloupes available in Texas grocery stores has declined drastically, and there have been rumors that those for sale are not really from Pecos at all, but from the nearby town of Coyanosa.
Last spring, I went to Pecos to see what made the melons so good, where they are really from, and what has caused annual plantings to plummet from a peak of roughly 1,800 acres in the early 1990s to about 100 acres today. I talked to a dozen active and retired cantaloupe farmers and agricultural extension specialists, and I learned that the traditional Pecos cantaloupe has a small seed cavity and a corresponding abundance of orange flesh. The flesh’s peculiar sweetness is created by a combination of the potassium in the soil in which the cantaloupes are grown and the long hours of dry sunshine that nourishes them, abetted by the magnesium and calcium salts in the water with which they are irrigated.
Roland Roberts, a retired High Plains vegetable specialist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, says potassium favors the accumulation of sugars in the melons, and the salinity of the water prevents them from absorbing too much moisture, which would blunt the sweetness.
As veteran Pecos cantaloupe grower Roger Jones says, “The saltier the water, the sweeter the melon.” Jones, who planted 100 acres of cantaloupes this year, said he is the last person in Pecos growing cantaloupes commercially, the last link in a tradition that is nearly a century old. The 69-year-old Jones moved to Pecos from Mercedes in 1979 and says he is “the oldest continual farmer in Pecos.”
Over the years, he has grown cotton, onions, cabbage and honeydew melons and even harvested four-wing saltbush seed from a plant that provides erosion control. Jones says, however, he never could have made a living farming without teaching auto mechanics at Pecos High School for the past 30 years, a job he still holds. He’s selling this summer’s cantaloupe crop to chain stores statewide, including Wal-Mart, H-E-B and individual distributors. But most Pecos cantaloupes, Jones confirms, don’t come from Pecos: They’re grown near Coyanosa, about 30 miles southeast of Pecos.
Chillin’ on the Train
The railroad first made Pecos cantaloupes famous. Madison Lafayette Todd, better known as M.L. Todd, came to Pecos from New Mexico in 1916 and bought an interest in an irrigated farm, where he and a partner, D.T. McKee, planted cantaloupes with seed from Rocky Ford, Colorado. They contracted with the dining-car service of the Texas and Pacific Railroad, which ran through Pecos, to buy their crop. The T&P listed the cantaloupes as “Pecos cantaloupes” on its breakfast menus, and dining-car stewards provided satisfied diners with chilled cantaloupes and Todd’s address. By the 1920s, Todd was shipping cases of Pecos cantaloupes all over the country by Railway Express.
Ray Thompson, Todd’s grandson, remembers that in those days, the train stopped in Pecos for just 20 minutes. During the shipping season, there was always a mad rush from the packing shed to the railroad station, with every available hand climbing on trucks already loaded with wooden cases of cantaloupes to get them into the express car before the train pulled out. Some customers ordered a case a week through summer. By the late 1940s, Todd had 240 acres planted in cantaloupes and was shipping 40,000 crates a year to customers in 42 states. Meanwhile, other growers had appeared on the scene.
Expensive To Grow
Cantaloupes, which are picked by hand and processed by hand in the packing shed, are a labor-intensive crop. The melon pickers and packers in Pecos were migrant workers, many from Mexico. Hope Wilson, who with her husband grew cotton as well as cantaloupes in Pecos in the 1950s, said at the height of the picking season, they had 1,500 migrant workers on their payroll.
Sally Williams Perry, whose father, Jack Williams, raised “Famous Pecos Cantaloupes,” recalled that on Saturdays in the ’50s, Pecos was teeming with people, including migrant workers who had come into town to shop before heading back to farms.
By the 1970s, there were five companies growing cantaloupes in Pecos, each with its own packing shed, and they shipped their melons by truck instead of train. The largest grower was the Pecos Cantaloupe Company, owned by A.B. Foster, who had first come to Pecos as an accountant for Billy Sol Estes’ cotton farming and fertilizer business. In 1990, Foster had 1,000 acres planted in cantaloupes and raised 10 different varieties, each of which ripened at a different time of summer. “But varieties had nothing to do with the taste,” said Randy Taylor, who bought the company. “The flavor was in the soil.”
All of the packers marked each cantaloupe with stickers denoting them as from Pecos.
No Way To Make a Profit
In the mid-’90s, however, the Pecos cantaloupe industry began to fall apart. The problems started as early as 1964 when the federal government ended the bracero program: an agreement originally made between the U.S. and Mexican governments in 1942 to bring contract workers from across the border into the U.S. to meet labor shortages created by World War II.
Migrant workers from the Lower Rio Grande Valley replaced the braceros, but their wages were higher than the 60 cents an hour paid to the braceros, and the migrant workers’ pay continued to rise through the 1970s and ’80s. Then, on top of those higher labor costs, farmers saw the water table start to fall and the price of natural gas begin to rise.
In the late 1950s, natural gas was piped to Pecos, fueling farmers’ water pumps. But the price of natural gas rose from 8 cents per 1,000 cubic feet to 30 cents. By 1989, it was 70 cents, and by 2006, when most of the growers had given up, it was $7 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Hybrid seed cost also escalated. Field Yow, Foster’s son-in-law, remembered that in 1977, seed cost about $6 per acre; by the time he got out of the business in 1997, it cost about $100 per acre. Wilson said she and her husband quit growing cantaloupes when they realized that each crate they sold for $18 was costing them $35 to produce.
By 1995, it was clear there was no way to make a profit growing cantaloupes in Pecos. The expenses were just too high.
Moving to Coyanosa
That’s when the Pecos cantaloupe industry moved to Coyanosa. The four Mandujano brothers, Tony, Armando, Junior and Beto, had actually started growing cantaloupes there in 1982. Tony Mandujano said that the first year, they planted half an acre. But that half-acre happened to be part of a patch of potassium-rich soil almost identical in composition to what it is in Pecos. In 1997, they incorporated as Mandujano Brothers Produce, a diversified farming company that now has 6,000 acres of watermelons, onions, cotton, hay, peppers, pumpkins and cantaloupes. They use migrant labor obtained through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s H-2A program, which allows nonimmigrant foreign workers into the country on visas to perform agricultural work for employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic labor.
The Mandujano brothers keep costs down with mechanization. They use a tractor-pulled vacuum-air planter—which plants one seed in each hole drilled—and a conveyor belt that carries melons from the field to the truck, although human hands still put the cantaloupes on the belt.
The brothers have also cut out middle management. “We are four brothers,” Tony Mandujano said. “And we are our own managers.” This year, the brothers planted 300 acres in cantaloupes, about 90 percent of which now, this summer, is being sold in Texas to grocery stores statewide such as Fiesta Foods, H-E-B, Kroger and Wal-Mart, and to roadside vendors.
Because Coyanosa is in Pecos County (Pecos itself is in Reeves County), each melon receives a sticker bearing a map of Texas crowned with a Stetson hat and the all-important label: “Pecos Fresh.” The shipping process can last two to three months, Tony Mandujano says, but once the cantaloupes are in stores, you’d better act fast: Their shelf life is seven to 10 days.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Mandujano brothers’ biggest competitors are in California, where 40,000 acres were planted in cantaloupes in 2010. “California cantaloupes are half the price of our cantaloupes,” Tony Mandujano said, “but they are only half as good. People who buy them are confused.”
But they may represent the future. Juan Anciso, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service vegetable specialist for the Rio Grande Valley and a cantaloupe expert, said most of the cantaloupes in Texas grocery stores from June to December come from California and Arizona; from January to May, they come from Honduras and Guatemala. So if you want Texas cantaloupes (they’re typically available in July and August), look for that Pecos label, even if the cantaloupe it’s on isn’t exactly from Pecos.
Editor's Note: Pecos’ world-famous cantaloupes inspired the Cantaloupe Festival, scheduled for July 27 this year in Pecos. The Cantaloupe Food Show is an annual celebration of the Sweet Pecos Cantaloupe that was created in Pecos and Reeves County. The show of creative "cantaloupe" displays and the delicious Cantaloupe Recipes make for a tasty event! Cantaloupe recipe entries are accepted and judged in several categories, as is a Youth Cantaloupe Decorating Contest. All the yummy fun takes place at the West of the Pecos Museum, 120 E. Dot Stafford Street.
Here's a special recipe ahead of time if you can't attend: Cantaloupe Pie
source: Lonn Taylor for Texas Monthly Magazine
Here's a great Fourth of July Recipe for Texas Red River Burgers.
wheat hamburger buns, split, or eight 1-inch-thick slices of bread
tomato slices (optional)
1. Combine green onion or white onion, bread crumbs, serrano peppers, chipotle peppers, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add beef; mix well. Shape meat mixture into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.
2. For a charcoal grill, place patties on the grill rack directly over medium coals. Grill, uncovered, for 14 to 18 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the side of a patty registers 160 degree F, turning once.
3. For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place patties on the grill rack; cover and grill as above.
4. Grill or toast buns or bread. Serve burgers on grilled or toasted buns or bread topped, if desired, with flavored catsup, tomato slices, red onion slices, and serrano peppers. Makes 4 servings.
source: Better Homes and Gardens
While you're shopping for warm-weather summer bargains, you can save yourself cool cash year-round on your utility bills by looking into an energy-saving alternatives...here's a few suggestions:
source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston ranked among the nation's top ten "cybercities" according to the TechAmerica Foundation.
DFW ranked fifth in high-tech employment, Houston ranked tenth.
The report analyzes the high-tech sector in 60 American cities, monitoring trends in total employment, wages, establishments and employment concentration.
The top 10 cybercities by high-tech employment were New York, Washington, DC, San Jose/Silicon Valley, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Houston.
The nation’s highest tech industry employment concentration was in San Jose/Silicon Valley, where nearly 30 percent of private sector workers were employed by the tech industry. Oklahoma City saw the largest tech industry employment growth.
"Most of the metro areas we examined lost tech jobs,” said Josh James, vice president, research and industry analysis, TechAmerica Foundation. “These are the types of jobs every city wants. They are very well-paid, with 57 of the 60 cybercities having average tech industry wages that are 50 percent higher than the average private sector wage. Three of those cybercities -- Colorado Springs, Austin, and San Diego -- have average tech wages that are more than double those of the private sector.”
Following a similar move by J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America Corp. runs a program geared to reducing loan balances for military borrowers who are struggling to pay their mortgages as they leave active duty.
Many of the banks' measures go beyond protections already provided to military borrowers in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The SCRA forbids foreclosures on active-duty military and caps interest rates at 6 percent.
Bank of America’s aid program for military borrowers helps members departing active duty and who will no longer be covered by the SCRA. It reduces the balance on home loans to “as low as 100 percent of the current market value” and offer reduced interest rates and extended terms to repay the loan. For active-duty military, interest rates will be cut back.
J.P Morgan Chase also cut interest rates for active-duty military members and it will not foreclose on any active-duty military, even those who are not protected by SCRA. It also promised more loan modifications would be available to military borrowers who are struggling to make payments.
The programs came on the heels of investigations from the Justice Department into lending abuses affecting military families. J.P. Morgan had admitted it overcharged 4,500 military families on loans and wrongly foreclosed on at least 18 active-duty military families.
source: Dow Jones Business News
More home owners who want to trade in their current home to buy a larger one are holding off, feeling trapped by a sluggish housing market and the loss of equity in their current home, The Los Angeles Times reports.
“Potential move-up buyers ... are largely sitting on the sidelines these days, leaving a key part of the housing market stuck in neutral,” The Los Angeles Times' article notes. “The promise of rising prices and upward mobility, once a powerful force in the American housing narrative, has been all but shattered by the downturn.”
Move-up buyers are often classified as home shoppers looking in the $300,000 to $800,000 price range, according to the research firm DataQuick. The “move-up” category creates a chain of buyers and sellers that is important for a healthy real estate market, since trading up “fuels price gains and helps home owners to build equity,” The Los Angeles Times' article notes.
"The way to think about [it] is a chain of trades that normally occurs, and if that chain is broken at any point, or it doesn't begin because you don't have enough entry-level buyers, then the whole dynamic of the marketplace is affected and the level of resales is going to be very small," says Ed Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast.
source: Los Angeles Times
It's a quandary that Dr. Spock didn't address: How should parents handle adult children coming back home to live?
Given the economic conditions, boomerangs may be turning up on your own doorstep soon. And with them come a host of unusual economic --and parenting --questions that you may not have considered.
Such as "Should You Charge Rent?
Theories vary widely and wildly. The issue, as Linda J. Abrahams, a lawyer in Northbrook, Ill., and a mother of a boomeranger, put it, isn't so much whether you charge. It's why the child has moved home in the first place.
For more, click here.
source: NY Times
After the first of every year, buyers tend to start getting more aggressive with their house hunting. Search activity usually peaks around March or April in most states, according to a study of home searches conducted by Trulia.
In September, searches slow down. By December buyer searches ebb to their lowest point of the year.
“Home-search activity swings with the seasons in every state,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist of Trulia. “Buyers and sellers can use these ups and downs to their advantage. Sellers looking for the most buyers should list when real estate search traffic peaks. Buyers, however, should think about searching off-season, when there is less competition from other searchers.”
The study revealed seasonal patterns of search activity state to state. Here are the months when online real estate searches peak in every U.S. state:
Nationally, as new home construction has risen, Bankrate.com offers these following tips for smart strategies when buying new construction:
1. Choose to escrow if not all changes are completed by closing. If the builder isn’t going to be done with all of the changes by the time of closing, “it’s probably a really good idea to escrow some money,” Ron Phipps, past president of the National Association of REALTORS®, told Bankrate.com. Then builders will have more incentive to complete the work.
2. Try to get custom features added. The builder may be willing to swap out a few things before you move in, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders. This is easier to do in a new home because the building materials are already on site, unlike in a previously owned home where you have to negotiate any alterations with the seller.
3. Research additional financing options. Buyers of new homes may have more financing options available since many builders usually work with a bank. Buyers aren’t required to go with the builder’s lender, but they can use it as a point of comparison to what other lenders are offering in shopping around for a best rate.
4. You can still negotiate. While previously owned homes offer plenty of deals nowadays and most likely more square footage for less money, builders are also more willing to negotiate with buyers on new homes. "There is such price pressure on the builder," Melman says. "Prices haven't been this low in years” on new construction. And even though you may be able to get a better deal on a previously owned home, Phipps says some buyers still may be drawn to new construction, despite the higher price tag: “You're starting fresh, its economic life is longer, you get to personalize it, and you don't have to undo what that other person thought was important."