Slimantics: Caledonia farmer ponders pumpkin potential

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Fall has arrived and, for once, the weather around here seems to be in agreement -- cool mornings and evenings and tolerable afternoons. The older and more sedentary I become, the better I like fall, especially when the calendar and the weather are in harmony.

 

As a child, my favorite season was summer, which meant no school and endless summer days that bronzed the skin and toughened bare feet. There was baseball and swimming and fishing and made-up adventures. I don't ever remember a kid complaining about the heat back then.

 

As I got older spring became my favorite season, mainly because I hated winter so very much. But with spring came obligations -- lawn mowing and planting/tending flower and vegetable gardens, mainly because of peer pressure. Your neighbors' landscape ambitions became yours, too. There was an expected standard to be upheld.

 

 

But aside from leaf-raking -- a task that can be averted by mowing the lawn -- fall requires little of us. The beauty of the landscape is Mother Nature's alone to create, and she does that job with spectacular artistry. That means you can get away with being lazy in the fall, for the most part.

 

But there is one fall tradition whose appeal has always evaded me: pumpkins.

 

For me, pumpkins are like NASCAR: I just don't get it. I don't like to eat pumpkin in any of its iterations. Nor do I find the scent of pumpkin, even pumpkin-spice, particularly appealing. Jack-o-lanterns are work to me. I'll pass. In fact, I don't like the color orange, especially prison-uniform orange.

 

Not being a Republican, I am not outraged that some people like things I don't like. That applies to pumpkins, too.

 

It appears a good part of the population of Caledonia are pumpkin people, based on the town's history with the local pumpkin patch.

 

More than 20 years ago, farmers Dwight and Jean Colson opened a pumpkin patch on a small plot of their farm on Spruill Road. They planted just three acres of pumpkins that first year and opened their "Country Pumpkins" pumpkin patch to the public. They were amazed at how popular it became. Each year, it got bigger -- the Colsons eventually planted 30 acres of pumpkins and began adding other activities to appeal to customers - a corn maze and other kid-friendly stuff..

 

But the pumpkin patch was never the Colson's business priority. They were mainly row crop farmers and depended on that for their livelihood. To them, the pumpkin patch became more of a community service than a revenue stream.

 

In 2018, the Colsons had reached their 70s and decided to end the pumpkin business to devote their full attention to their primary crops.

 

So, for the first time in two decades, there was no pumpkin patch in Caledonia last year.

 

People were disappointed, Jean Colson said. Some were even mad about it.

 

Into this pumpkin void, has stepped Will Darnell, who grew up on a Caledonia farm and enjoyed visiting the Colson's patch every fall as a child..

 

On Oct. 3, Darnell will open his own pumpkin patch on a parcel of his farm land on Wolfe Road.

 

He picked a bad year to plant pumpkins, though. An extended late summer drought has meant smaller pumpkins and a corn maze that is a good two feet shorter than it would be in a normal year. It's not going to be the first impression he had hoped to make.

 

He's afraid the picky pumpkin population will be perturbed and withhold their support.

 

Like the Colsons, Darnell is doing the pumpkin patch more as a community service and a nod to tradition rather than as a commercial enterprise.

 

But if Caledonia folks don't support him, he's worried his pumpkin-producing project may be short-lived. With support, he said, he plans to "do better" next year and expand his pumpkin operation.

 

So the fate of the Caledonia pumpkin patch will soon be in the hands of the pumpkin-preferring population.

 

So, even though pumpkins aren't my passion and my fall would not be diminished by their absence, I'm really rooting for Darnell and hoping Caledonia rewards his efforts.

 

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

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