I paid for five and a half years of college tuition by growing and selling pumpkins. I started off slowly by just raising several pickup loads but by the time I retired from the business ten years later (to attend college) I was selling them by the semi load to places as far away as Chicago and St. Louis. But one constant from the humble beginnings to the ten acres of pumpkins grown annually in the end was the Forest Craft Festival in Keosauqua, Iowa.
The Forest Craft Festival (FCF) is a county wide celebration of fall and most of the towns host some kind of event with the largest and most widely attended one being the craft flea market held along the river in Keosauqua. If you read my blog a week ago called Time Travel At the Hotel Manning, the pictures show a bridge and a large bed and breakfast that bracket a small city park along the river where the heart of the craft flea market is located. Under a large tree with golden leaves, my pumpkin stand was located for about ten years.
The FCF weekend for me began on Friday night after school when my brother and I would load up my parent's pickup bed with the nicest pumpkins we could find until it was overflowing. Long before the crack of dawn the next morning, we would be on our was usually shivering in the early morning chill as we made our way along the 30 miles of rural blacktop road to the county seat of Keosauqua. Most stands were not allowed to drive their vehicles into the park but since we sold pumpkins, we were given an exception. Our location was always that big tree with the golden leaves.
As dawn broke, we would unload our pumpkins and line them up in rows according to size (and thus price) creating an awesome palette of color with the oranges of the pumpkins, yellows of the leaves and the greens of the grass. My mom would sell honey at her stand right alongside ours providing some colors of gold as well. The early hours are always a battle trying to stay warm while waiting for the first customers to show up but soon they would arrive. My brother and I also provided the service of carrying the pumpkins to customers vehicles since they often would be parked four or five blocks away and didn't want to carry them that far themselves. Heaving a large pumpkin onto my shoulder and feeling the way my muscles warmed with exertion after three blocks always made me feel good, like I was a real contribution to society.
I enjoyed the selling part almost more than the money I received. Everyone was always in a good mood with large smiles on their faces. Mostly because fall Iowa weather just can't be beat in early October but because another year was drawing to a close and everyone was in the mood to celebrate. Whether buying a pumpkin to make into a warm pie or carve a spooky face in for Halloween or some comb honey to sweeten up the hot homemade biscuits just taken out of the oven. Sales were always brisk and just about every evening we would ride home in the now empty pickup but with a full moneybag.
About five miles north of town where I live today, there is a pumpkin farm where locals can go and pick their own pumpkins or select them from an assortment arranged on hayracks along the road. There are no humans monitoring the stand and there is just a cigar box where you can pay or make change on the honor system. I still buy my pumpkins there (if I don't grow a hill or two back home on the farm) because I like to support the independent guy versus buying them from a large box store but it just doesn't feel the same. I miss having the young lad with the cheerful banter selling the wares or commenting on the fine choice that I made in my pumpkin selection. I miss the thank you sirs and the thank you ma'ams and the offers to carry the pumpkin to my car parked blocks away. I miss the colorful splashes of orange, yellow and green underneath that large tree with the river in the background, the bridge to the west and a large old bed and breakfast to the east. I saved every penny I made during those weekends of selling pumpkins and like I said before, paid for my expensive education. But perhaps the best education I received was selling pumpkins out of the back of a pickup at the Forest Craft Festival under that large tree of yellow fire.