Friday, June 10, 2011

The Start of a Pumpkin Salesman

I found the picture above in some old slides that I am scanning that was probably of year two in our pumpkin business when we reached the point where we decided that there was money to be had. We went from about twenty hills of pumpkins the year this picture was taken to around three acres of pumpkins the next year. To give you more of the story, I retooled an old post below about our business and posted a link to another old post at the end of this post.

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 local craft festival in our neck of the woods.

The festival was 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 town seen in my header. Near the only bridge crossing the river is 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.

Festival 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. 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 local festival under that large tree of yellow fire.

See also: Dealing In Orange Colored Gold

17 comments:

warren said...

That's awesome! I agree, that sort of education is the best you can get. I sold bait and fishing tackle as a kid and like you, found that I learned more from than than at any other time...

Ron said...

That's really interesting, enjoyed the post. I can relate to the feeling of doing a good job and being appreciated, and the jovial mood of Fall. I'm considering some ventures myself... while they would barely break even, it is nice to get that feeling of providing a valuable good/service and the sense of community it fosters.

Ed said...

Warren - It certainly kept me out of trouble in early summer when most of my peers were in the thick of it fresh from the bounds of school.

Ron - Looking back, I'm not sure it was a sustainable business model. Most of our customers were using us to fill a void when their normal supplier had crop issues. By the end of my run, we were fighting bugs and other things such as competitors. Also, our biggest customers, road side stands, seemed to disappear around that time as well. I can't remember the last time I saw a roadside stand selling pumpkins. I guess I'm saying that I got lucky that time and I'm not sure I could repeat it again even if I wanted too.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Great post. Nowadays you'd probably have to pay into the healthcare system and charge some kind of redistrubitive tax on each pumpkin. Spread the wealth young man, spread the wealth.

Ed said...

Phil - Back then, everything was in cash...

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yup Ed, I realize that; just being my cynical self... as always... pretty unique way to pay for school. Never heard of anyone admitting to such a thing. Brilliant, just brilliant bruthah...

Eutychus2 said...

I could not agree with you more about we've lost over the years in personal relationships, even casual ones. Enjoyed your story; and like you, would much rather support the individual than the corporation - that's why I still enjoy going to local, small village festivals!! Even my kids from around the Big City in Eastern Michigan still come home around Halloween time so we can make our annual pilgrimages to local farms with corn mazes and pumpkins and gourds of all sizes, shapes and colors!!

Murf said...

The whole 'buy local' stink just might bring back the little blonde boys who carry pumpkins to cars.

What is a 'hill' of pumpkins? Is that some crazy Iowan measurement? :-)

Ed said...

Murf - Most planting instructions for pumpkins, squash and the like call for you to mound up a pile of dirt into a 'hill' and then plant your seeds. I'm not sure the reasoning behind this. We planted our pumpkins in conventional rows with a field planter used to plant corn so we had no 'hills' and they grew just fine. I wonder if it stemmed from the practice of burying fish in the hole before putting seeds and the rest of the dirt back. Of course the dirt can't all fit back in with fish taking up space so the result was a small 'hill' of dirt. This is not to be confused with hilling potatoes which does serve a useful purpose.

Murf said...

Why was fish buried in the hole? The same concept as putting moth balls when you plant your bulbs, I'm guessing.

Why are potatoes planted in a hill of dirt?


Signed,
City Girl

Ed said...

Murf - The fish acts as fertilizer. You hill potatoes to prevent those growing near the surface from being eaten by birds and rodents and also to protect them from getting sunburned.

PhilippinesPhil said...

We used to keep the soil mounded up around our taters for those reasons and also to give them an opportunity to absorb more nourishment to get larger if they were going to. Preventing sunburned potatoes, my dad used to claim that sun on an exposed tater would cause it to be toxic. I should check into that.

Ed said...

Phil - I've eaten sunburned taters before after cutting off the sunburned part and I'm still kicking so I don't think the whole potato is toxic anyway.

PhilippinesPhil said...

"kicking ass" eh? Do you also use the phrase "That's "bad ass?"" The word ass is really making great inroads in the American lexicon these days it seems. My young dive training mates used "bad ass" a lot I noticed. It used to be a way to describe a tough guy, but they used it to describe just about anything they liked. When I finally have to come back and live in that screwed up society again I just know I'm going to have to go through some serious culture shock. Not looking forward to it.

Ed said...

Phil - Not sure how 'kicking ass' entered the discussion but to answer you, I have heard people (mostly people younger than myself) use the phrase "that's bad ass" though I haven't used it myself. The 'American' English language is so full of stuff like that, it makes me wonder how anyone who doesn't speak our language natively ever learns it.

PhilippinesPhil said...

What? You don't like my "bad ass" tangent?... I think it "kicks ass!"

Bone said...

So the self-checkout has even invaded the local pumpkin farm. Sad.

I'd much rather buy local produce. Of course, the winter time is tougher.

Good story, Ed.