While Rustin Wooldridge wasn’t even a thought when the Perkey and Wooldridge Farm began over 40 years ago. There is no argument he has been instrumental in the operation for the last five years. Rustin is a young farmer who has spent his life in Cave City and grew up on the farm and has since worked extensively in the production alongside his father and grandfather.
Wooldridge partnered with his grandfather, Abra, following the untimely death of his father, Chad, in June of 2017 and has absorbed the many skills required to produce the healthy and sweet melons that are Cave City’s claim to fame.
The Perkey Wooldridge farms have utilized drip irrigation like all of Cave City’s registered growers since 2012. Wooldridge said despite the utilization of drip irrigation this year’s drought has posed some challenges to the crop.
Wooldridge explained while the drip irrigation can run continuously, the plants have feeder roots that extend past the boundaries of the plastic the drip tape’s coverage area. The extreme heat penetrates to the roots where water doesn’t reach, which can kill a plant from under the ground. “What we are having a problem with us is the sun cooking them on the vines,” he explained. “The hot and dry weather has really hurt us. It has not been a bust, but it has been a challenge and it is what it is and we [the growers] are in this together.”
Watermelons require a large quantity of water to produce optimal quality, but Wooldridge said wet seasons pose another set of challenges. He explained they also have dealt with that issue in the past.
In a wet year, there will be more disease in the plant due to the dampness, it spreads easier and quicker. In an average year, weather brings rain every week to every other week, which is optimal. More or less can drastically affect crop yields.
Each year, Perkey and Wooldridge plant seeds in greenhouses in mid to late March. Four to five weeks later, they are transplanted in the field. Wooldridge said they try to stagger planting times so they have melons coming off throughout the season for their customers.
In a regular year Perkey Wooldridge Farms is pulling about 300-350 a day, this year they are getting about half that.
Insects are another issue all watermelon farmers face, but Wooldridge said they are worse in wet seasons than dry. “It is always an uphill battle for us,” he explained of all watermelon growers.
Wooldridge loves the farm life and also produces vegetables that are sold at his stand on Highway 167 a mile north of Cave City.
He will eventually take over the production. “Pop is going to go as long as he can and as long as he is able. He may keep going for 20 years,” he laughed.
Two young men help with the production and his aunt stays at the stand in case someone has a bad melon. “We want them to be satisfied customers. I have been telling people if they get a bad one, I will stand by it.” Wooldridge spends a great portion of the day at his stand to help load and interact with their customers.
Wooldridge and his wife Delaney, are expecting their first child. She recently opened a new hair salon Branded Babe, next door to his stand.
“We appreciate the support that people bring us.” Wooldridge said.
There is no doubt he will take on the family operation one day