Rocky Ford cantaloupe hit King Soopers today

Rocky Ford cantaloupe took a big hit last year, unfairlyfingered by the FDA in the early days of the listeria outbreak in a September 14, 2011 release that warned consumers not to eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes. And never mind that the real culprit, Jensen farms, was more than a hundred miles away.

Meanwhile, back in Rocky Ford, the farmers banded together in a new organization, the Rocky Ford Growers Association, and invested close to a million dollars in new safety procedures and practices. Then the state stepped in and funded a $175,000 makeover for the fruit.

The campaign kicked off last Saturday, when 450 pounds of cantaloupe that had been picked in the fields of Rocky Ford the day before were given away at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. "People lined up ten deep," says Diane Mulligan, who got the very hands-on cantaloupe-makeover contract with the state, and cut up the fruit.

Today the first shipment of Rocky Ford cantaloupe will arrive at King Soopers stores; on July 20, they'll get to Whole Foods, Safeway and Walmart. The state will be slapping them with a Rocky Ford sticker that's currently in the works.

And there will be more celebrations through the summer, including a cantaloupe cookoff on the 16th Street Mall August 1, a major celebration at the Arkansas Valley Fair on August 18, and special displays at the Colorado State Fair later that month.

But now Colorado could face another dilemma: a cantaloupe shortage. "The farmers only planted about 30 percent of what they would normally plant," Mulligan points out. Jensen Farms is out of business, of course, and other farms decided to ditch cantaloupes in favor of other crops. And those that did continue with the melons didn't plant as much as they had in the past, concerned about what this season would bring, even though for 125 years, Mulligan points out, "they had a completely unblemished record/"

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