In the absence of far-reaching advertising campaigns, Cohen said the individual farmers can take matters into their own hands. To help ease out of the tomato crisis, she advised her client to answer every question from the public on the risks and safety measures associated with produce.
"For small growers that may mean answering phone calls, posting messages on their company websites," she said.
Don Smith, 82, was way ahead of her. He runs Turlock Fruit Co. — a farm founded by his father in 1918 — with his son and grandson in the Central Valley. At the start of the cantaloupe problem in the fall, he had his grandson — the one who went to Yale, he noted — post on the company website that anyone with concerns about their cantaloupes should call them.
The site got about 14,000 hits a day, and scores of consumers took up the offer to telephone the farm.
"One day I know I talked to 50 people," Smith said. "Some of the calls were touching. A woman in Chicago whose little girl was sick, someone from Alaska. I heard the fear.
"I told each and every one of them our cantaloupe were safe and anything else they wanted to know about how we grew them."
In debating the future direction of the company, Smith takes a more optimistic stand than that of his son and grandson, who think the industry will be injured for a long time.
"Maybe it's that I'm older and I've seen cantaloupe beset by all kinds of drama: weather, water, labor unrest, truck and train rates," he said. "But mostly I think the backlash will blow over because this area has warm, dry days and cold nights, and we really do grow the best cantaloupe."
Still, he says he will put in fewer acres than last season. But just how many acres?
That's Smith's secret.
"You can't ask a Texas cowboy how many cows," he said, "or a melon grower how many acres."