By ERIN TURNER
What began 7 years ago out of frustration and desperation has turned into an incredible experience and a blessing for our family. When our oldest son was in 4th grade, he came home with the school fundraiser packet. As my husband looked at it, he breathed a heavy sigh and said, “I really wish there was another way we could raise money for the school.”
Around the same time that year, we had just harvested our pumpkins on the farm. With our sons who were 9, 7 and 4 yrs old at the time, we had a physically challenging time hucking all those pumpkins. Plus, what in the world, were we going to do with that many pumpkins?? That’s when a light went off in my husband’s head and the next day he was down at the school talking to the staff. His idea of collaborating with the school on raising pumpkins and selling them was welcomed with enthusiasm from the staff. So began our journey to developing what’s now known as the Turner Farms’ Pumpkin Patch!
That following spring the entire 4th grade from Hawthorne school, including our son, marched down Third Street to our farm and spent a half day planting pumpkin seeds, setting water lines and learning about growing pumpkins. It was awesome to see kids who struggled in the classroom behind a desk suddenly become the leaders out in the field guiding other students on how to use a hoe or how to shovel manure into the field as natural fertilizer. Teachers saw kids in a different light and it helped them understand their students even more. The planting phase of our plan was successful and was meant by eagerness and excitement by the students.
After the summer, the same students came back as 5th graders and harvested the pumpkins out of the field and set up their pumpkin patch. Again, watching the students work together, side by side, created a warmness in our hearts and confirmed that what we were doing was a benefit to all. Aside from that, my husband’s back was thrilled at not having to huck a thousand pounds of pumpkins!
The following weekend some of the students came and helped with the pumpkin sale we held at the farm. They washed the dirt off the pumpkins and helped carry them to the customers’ cars. It was again a great learning experience for the kids and the customers loved seeing the kids, who planted and harvested the pumpkins, helping out. At the end of the day that year, we had raised a couple hundred dollars for the school but more importantly we had given the kids an opportunity to learn with not just their heads but with their hands as well.
Well, that first trial year was successful enough that we have continued to work with the school every year since and every year we have grown and been able to raise more money for the school. Last week, we welcomed the next 5th grade class to harvest this year’s pumpkins. For Jon and me this year has special significance. It is the last year a Turner boy will be part of the “Pumpkin experience”. Our youngest son is part of this year’s class and while we have loved working with every class, there is something extra special about working with your own children and watching them share their lifestyle as a farm kid with their classmates. It is a bittersweet year for us.
While the bitterness of that reality bit at our hearts last week, we were overtaken by the sweetness of getting ready for our Annual Pumpkin Festival which we held on Sunday, Oct. 11th. This year we utilized social media to spread the word and it went beyond any expectations we had. In fact, the news of the festival went viral and by Friday of last week we had over 500 people planning on attending!
With the help of 5th grade students and their parents, we welcomed the masses on Sunday under blue skies and a golden sun! It was what dreams are made of…at least for pumpkin farmers. Loads and loads of Missoulians ascended on to Turner Farms and were delighted with the beautiful arrangement of pumpkins the students had a set up along the pathways through the corn field. The public was entertained by the silly goats, the stinky pigs and the squawky geese and ducks. They sampled fresh pressed apple cider and snapped pictures on tractors and old farm trucks. I had to hold back tears of joy on Sunday watching families enjoy the simplicity of a pumpkin patch, farm animals and each other!
The Missoula community drank in the beauty of fall in Montana on a local family farm. Missoula loves their local farms and they love their local schools and when you put the two together, you have a winning combination! We were overwhelmed by the response and the students were thrilled at the support the community gave to their efforts.
As our family fell into bed on Sunday night, we couldn’t help but reminisce about our early beginnings and the reasons why we even started. It’s been an incredible journey over 7 years to watch it grow into something so big and so well loved. Jon and I couldn’t help but smile all day long as the lines of people flooded our farm, but the biggest smiles came when kids and parents would come up and tell us they couldn’t wait until they were old enough to participate in the Pumpkin experience!
Our goals have definitely shifted over the seven years! Today our goals are all about educating kids about farming and teaching them the entire cycle of a crop…from seed to sale. It’s also about creating community and welcoming people to experience local farm life. And yeah, having 40+ students hucking thousands of pounds of pumpkins and saving our backs still kinda ranks up there too!
Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family. Read more of Erin’s blogs about homesteading, farming, homemaking and other fun things at TurnerFarmLiving.com