RANGELY I The Rangely Community Gardens finished its 2014 season by handing out more than 550 pumpkins to children and community members before Halloween.
Since the Gardens’ inception in 2011, organizer Sharon Stewart has held fast to the idea of growing pumpkins for kids. Part of the reason was nostalgia.
As she and husband Eddie raised their six children, locals Don and Laurel Polley always grew a pumpkin patch on an acre of land near their home. Come harvest time, children from all over town arrived to make their selection.
“The kids just loved it,” Stewart said. “Every year, it was tradition to head to the Polleys’ to pick out pumpkins.
In 2010, when Stewart became involved in planning for a community garden, the group’s vision included a pumpkin patch. And each year, with the help of volunteers, including her grandchildren, Stewart has had one. Even when a blight last summer destroyed many pumpkins in the region, including most of those in the Community Garden, she began looking ahead to the next year.
It was a good thing she did. 2014 was the Community Gardens’ best year yet for pumpkins. While the CSU Extension office and Rangely 4-H supplement the Gardens’ efforts to ensure there’s enough stock, this year’s crop produced more than half of the 600 pumpkins made available to the community.
That meant not only elementary-aged children brought home pumpkins; so did toddlers, siblings, seniors and, by donation, other adults who wanted in on the harvest.
Stewart said some people new to the pumpkin patch tradition were incredulous that pumpkins were just being given away.
“They were excited,” she said. “People would come with three, four, five kids and ask, ‘How much are your pumpkins? We can probably afford one.’ I was like, ‘They’re free.’”
A couple of people were less thrilled about the giveaway. Stewart said one man spoke to her for more than half an hour about why the Gardens should charge for pumpkins or at least ask for money. Stewart directed him to a donation can but politely maintained the patch would stay free.
“The thing that was so important to me about the patch was enjoying seeing the kids get delight out of it,” she said. “And in this day and age, I’m sorry, but everything has a price. People look at you like you’re crazy if you say it’s free.”
For Stewart, that’s part of what has been so fun about the venture. And over the last few years, the pumpkin patch has reaped benefits that go beyond the joy on kids’ faces. Companies and grant-givers tend to want to help non-profit efforts focused on children, and the patch has been a part of that.
Now, after a successful growing season, Stewart’s in the middle of plans to triple the size of the patch next year.
She’s the first to admit none of it happens without the work of dozens of volunteers and organizers who pour themselves into the Gardens each year.
“Rangely has been good to our family, and it makes me feel good to be able to do something in return,” she said. “But without the community, we wouldn’t have any of this. We’re all here for the same purpose. We grow into these things together.”