Cantaloupes (a common American name for muskmelons) are a crop that lends itself well to small-scale and part-time farming operations. There are multiple markets for growers with 5 acres or less, and many field operations, such as land preparation, planting, and harvesting, can be custom hired. Custom labor and cultivation, however, are only available in areas where there are other producers that use plastic laying, raised-bed, and mechanical transplanting equipment. Should you need to purchase the necessary equipment, start-up expenses will be higher.
Cantaloupes are a member of the cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds. Individual plants produce both male and female flowers, and fruit size varies from 3 to 7 pounds. Fruit shape and appearance are quite varied, ranging from smooth or partially netted to sutured and heavily netted.
Cantaloupes were first cultivated in the Near East and were found growing in areas from Turkey to China, including northwest India, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Several cantaloupe varieties were reportedly grown in the West Indies as early as 1494. Cantaloupes were also cultivated by Native Americans near the present city of Montreal in 1535 and in the vicinity of Philadelphia prior to 1748. Commercial cantaloupe production did not begin in the United States until the 1870s and was initially centered in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.
Around 2.0–2.2 billion pounds of cantaloupes are produced in the United States annually on over 90,000 acres, generating $300–$400 million in farm receipts. Pennsylvania farmers produce over 10 million pounds on 1,300 acres, generating more than $2.3 million in gross receipts.