The Great Pumpkin Patch

by Bowen Craig

America has gone a little crazy with the pumpkin spicing, but pumpkins themselves are a pretty sane vegetable. They symbolize a season. They’re heavy and funky-looking. They delight children. They’re America’s temporary Fall furniture that we get to decorate ourselves, scare a few children with, enjoy and then watch carelessly as the Life Cycle does what it does.

One of the more magical days in the Athens’ year is the day the pumpkins show up. They scatter to front porches far and wide, but a large number of them are magnetically-attracted to a certain church lawn on our city’s best street.  If you’ve lived here for more than twelve months, and aren’t legally blind, you know exactly which pumpkin patch I mean.  Milledge Avenue Baptist Church. Between Five Points and the turn-off to College Station Road. You’ve seen them every year at the same time. They’ve made you smile.

Athens Uncharted met with Ginny Dempsey, the Pumpkin Coordinator (not her actual title) for Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, in the middle of the patch, in all her glory.  “It’s an experience.  People get excited.”  She’s right.

As I was traipsing through the patch of pumpkin palettes, I met Ellie, an avowed pumpkin fan, who summarized the feeling that Pumpkin Day evokes in the locals. “This is something that happens every year. You’re anticipating when they’re going to put the pumpkins out. I live on South Milledge. We would always drive by. Everyone loves this.”

When they first started the pumpkin patch, one truckload came into town, now it’s three full trucks, loaded to the brim with orange, green, knobby, and clean ones. Although the stereotype is of the large, oval orange kind, there’s actually a greater variety of pumpkin colors and shapes, all represented in the patch. Even little white ones stacked three or four high for easy decoration are available. All of them are shipped to North Georgia from a Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, where the climate is just right for growing, through a company called, appropriately enough, Pumpkins USA. Generally speaking, pumpkins start off green, then turn pinkish, then darker red, and then settle on orange, but depending on when they’re harvested, you can see this color wheel of large vegetables at any point along the spectrum.

According to Ginny, it’s a little more complex than you’d imagine. “It kind of follows a pattern. The first week we see people buying the decorative pumpkins they are going to leave out for the whole month. In the middle of the month, people buy pumpkins to carve, specifically for Halloween. Then, at the end of the month people buy them for baking pies and cooking in general. Plus, that’s when the farmers and dog owners come in.”

Jan Bell, another pumpkinateer who’s helped set up this event since its inception, “Pigs, cows and even dogs love to eat pumpkins. The farmers always come by at the end of the month.”  With over 100,000 pounds of pumpkins, this simple and wondrous endeavor leads to many happy people, cows, pigs and dogs. 

There are organized field trips. Ginny added, “The kids always want to run and touch all of the pumpkins. Dogs love it, too. We like to say, ‘Our patch is made for all dogs, but not all dogs are made for our patch.’” However, ALL children are definitely made for their patch. “One little girl came here for the first time and, seeing the church, asked me if I lived in this castle.”  

Photo credits: Ginny Dempsey, AU