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Pumpkin Project turns up again

Local land-owners, students and 4-H members pick a new crop.

Howard Block has come up with a pithy summation to introduce the Pumpkin Project.

“Till it, turn it, plant it, tend it, pick it, sell it, spend it, feed it,” he says.

Last year, Bay Hay & Feed owner Block along with employee and Bainbridge High School student Devin Groman planted the field behind Bay Hay with a crop of festive, naturally deer-resistant pumpkins.

The fruits of their harvest were then sold at the Harvest Fair to benefit Helpline House.

Block knew he was onto something when the venture netted roughly $1,200.

So he sought ways to expand the project this year, both by seeking out other landowners willing to donate the use of spare plots, and by involving more young people in the planting and harvesting effort.

Last spring at the farmers market, Block approached 16 year-old 4-H garden club member Forrest Carlson to ask if he’d be interested in helping to steward the project.

“We thought, ‘ah, this fits right into what we were doing,’” said Forrest’s mom, Rosanne Carlson.

Drawing on the family’s connection to the Commodore Homeschool Support Program, Rosanne helped pull together a group of kindergarten and first-grade students to bring the project to fruition.

With Forrest’s guidance and the help of his younger brothers, Warren and Morgan, the kids last May planted five different varieties of seed, two per pot, in the Commodore demonstration garden.

They transferred 120 pumpkin starts to Block’s land and 141 to a plot donated by Roberts Road resident Stair Dickerman over two weekends in June.

And after tending the fields all summer, Block and the Carlsons brought a dozen Commodore kids back to the fields the week before last to harvest the ripe fruit.

Block said that while he himself still has a lot to learn about growing pumpkins, and that a few are still green, he thinks the kids did well – the majority are perfectly bright orange and ready for market.

For Rosanne, one of the most heartening aspects of the project has been to see young Commodore Homeschool students, some of whom are disabled, participate in the physical work of farming.

“When they see the actual pumpkins that they grew...it’s so rewarding for them,” Rosanne said.

“Many of the kids hadn’t done much planting before,” Forrest added, “especially to this scale, a larger field like this.”

Rosanne and Block also point to how much the multigenerational aspect of the project – pairing young, enthusiastic backs with older residents who have land but not necessarily the wherewithal to farm it – can benefit the community.

Unlike last year, the 2007 Pumpkin Project won’t stop with cash. Instead, Block and crew will work with Helpline House to assess its non-perishable food needs before actually purchasing the food and delivering it in Block’s truck later this fall.

“So the kids can actually see what their pumpkins were equal to in donations,” Rosanne said.

Block says that last week’s farmers market pumpkin sales, combined with those from sales at Bay Hay, are at nearly $1,000.

He hopes to reach $2,000 by the end of today’s market.

And he’s already looking ahead to next year’s Pumpkin Project, having secured an Oregon supplier to donate pumpkin seeds and putting the word out for more folks with pumpkin-ready land to spare.

“We want to have it grow,” he said.

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Till it, feed it

Pumpkins from the 4-H Pumpkin Project are available at Bay Hay & Feed at Rolling Bay, and also at the farmers market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, Oct. 13, in the town square. To find out how to get involved with the project or to lend land, contact Howard Block, 842-8310.

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