Pumpkin Profits Since The 10-Cent Days
THE lowly pie pumpkin, suitable for Halloween purposes, was my grandfather's shining example of bucolic prosperity, and he would never-never believe that they have been offered, and bought, this season in our supermarkets at $3.95. Grandfather's philosophy of successful agronomy was simply stated: Always have something to sell. His items in stock went from blueberries to oak logs, from fresh eggs to beef-cutters ("critturs," creatures). As to his pumpkins, their value to him was about 10 cents.He'd recite about all the time, labor, anxiety, and support that went into raising a bull calf to a marketable beef animal, and observe that a net profit was "prolly" no more than 10 cents. But a pumpkin, requiring no effort, maturing in a few weeks, and costing nothing, would sell for 10 cents. Furthermore, if he couldn't sell his beef animal, the thing would soon eat away more than it was worth, whereas an unsold pumpkin still had value. He'd toss it into the pigpen or feed it to a cow. On the farm not hing went to waste. Back about the time George Dewey was in the headlines, grandfather's area got a food processing plant - hermetically sealed vegetables were about to proliferate. News came that in season pumpkins would be packed, and grandfather's symbolic 10 cents became a reality. For many years grandfather took advantage of this new prosperity. He fitted boards to make tight sides on his two-horse hayrack, and hauled pumpkins to mill with glee and enthusiasm. After he had unloaded his pumpkins at the receiving platform, he would drive his horses down behind the mill and back his hayrack under the discharge chute. Women and girls upstairs were cutting pumpkins for packing, and the stems, peelings, pulp, seeds, and occasionally a lost paring knife would come from this chute and fil l grandfather's rack with a free load. He'd dump this into his hog pen and his staff of porkers would shortly resolve things into a compost which would be applied to the land next spring. (A timber in his barn was stuck full of paring knives even into my time!) Then all the pumpkin seeds would sprout, and a self-perpetuating prosperity prevailed until, years later, the food plant was closed. Long after grandfather went his way, but still in the 10-cent days, pumpkins would sprout by themselves all over our farm, even among the petunias we had in a little flower bed by the roadside mailbox. When our youngsters were small, I began marking pumpkins for their Halloween jack-o'-lanterns. It's easy to do. Any stylus will work; a common nail will suffice. When the pumpkin is small, just after the blossom drops, scratch letters into the soft skin. The wound will weep a bit, but shortly the pumpkin begins to mature and the skin grows hard. The letters enlarge as the pumpkin grows, and become raised welts that tell whose pumpkin it is. I would take JOHN and KATHY to the house for Halloween, and pers onalized pumpkins were appreciated. This led to marking pumpkins for our roadside stand, and we came to have regular customers who would remind me in the spring to do their childrens' names. In this way pumpkins exceeded grandfather's 10- cent value, and we used to get an amazing 25 cents. And if I didn't sell the odd HENRY or FLORENCE, we still had a pen of pigs. Then one year the buyer for a big chain market asked if I could grow calligraphic pumpkins in quantity, and we started a couple of acres of the things. The Census Bureau helped with a list of most used names - out of 100 girls so many will be Marys. I marked pumpkins and did nothing else for three weeks, and added a few Anastasias and Cadwalladers which were not on the census list. By the first of October, we had a couple of truckloads of personalized pumpkins to deliver, and as the chain store had promi sed me 35 cents each, we were thinking about buying a piano. Alas and alack. The "produce manager" didn't handle these as Halloween novelties, but priced them at four cents a pound, lumping them with turnips, potatoes, and carrots, and thus they retailed around 20 cents apiece. Except for Anastasia there was a sellout. The chain store tried to welsh, but we did get our money - and a piano. We did learn it doesn't take much to be a produce manager, and to make chains sign papers.