Watermelon blood runs deep in Cave City and grower Wendall Perkey is yet another example. At 62 years old, Perkey has been working in the watermelon fields for over a half a century, since he was seven years old. He has seen about everything a Cave City watermelon grower can imagine. From the days of hoeing the fields by hand to implementing cultivation, irrigation and plastic, Perkey knows the ropes of growing.
He worked alongside his late father, JW until his death last year. He and his brother Mickey took over the operation and are currently farming 8-10 acres.
Perkey said the drought hasn’t hurt him this year because he has a ready water supply, something that is detrimental to the growth of melons. “I think the melons do better in the hot and dry conditions rather than wet. It seems like they taste better and do better and you don’t have as much disease in the field. If you have plenty of water, hot and dry is better.” The Perkey’s pick between 300-400 melons every other day to sell at their well known roadside stand. He reflected on the years of work his family has put into the melon production. “It has all been real hard work, and that is one thing you can’t get enough help. It is hard to find someone to do the hard work. We have done pretty good with the boys we have had.” He currently employs four young men.
Perky explained that in the early years it was harder to sell watermelons because there were so many growers. “There is such a demand for them, you can pretty much sell everything you grow.” He feels his regular and loyal customers are the reason his stand has always been successful.
In the earlier years they primarily sold them more in bulk. Today, he said they try to supply their local customers but has a few who are regular bulk customers, including a man who sells at Drasco. To prepare for festival, he explained that they plant a few that will be coming off about the end of July. Perkey will have plenty of melons for everyone this year during festival. Like other growers, the Perkeys donate melons for the free melon feast each year on Saturday afternoon at the festival. Perkey has been seen for decades helping cut and serve the melons to the large crowds that attend the largest festival in the county.
Perkey explained his father really enjoyed farming melons and everything he has learned about farming them came first hand from his father. JW began growing melons partnering with Gary and Phillip Johnson’s father in the early years. When the Johnson’s father passed away, Gary and Philip established Johnson Brothers. At that time, JW partnered with one of his brothers and years later, Wendall and his brother Mickey joined their dad growing melons.
Besides melons, Perkey grows cantaloupe, tomatoes and squash within his melon patch and has them for sale at his roadside stands along with cucumbers and okra. Perkey is a full time cattle farmer during the off season.
Perkey’s stand is located a mile and a half north of Cave City on Highway 167.