October 19, 2005

From Pumpkins to Churches

 felt the crisp fall North Dakota breeze as it swept through the fields during harvesttime. Plump pumpkins rested quietly on the ground for nearly as far as I could see, their vines reaching green arms up and around like a snake searching for its prey. These pumpkins are important--they are going to build churches.

1543 story9It all started two summers ago when my husband, Dwight, a farmer, provided me with a small patch of ground by our house so I could earn some money. After exploring my options, I decided to try growing pumpkins. That first summer I planted one acre of pumpkins, and the Lord blessed so abundantly I decided to plant two acres the next summer.

It was a joy to see God at work in my pumpkin patch. It strengthened my faith to see what He can do when we let Him. God's leading is a miracle to me, and the miracles in my pumpkin patch proved it.

The First Step
It's not easy becoming established in the produce world. Most grocery stores already have their suppliers. In the summer of 2001 I asked the produce manager of our local grocery store to buy 1,000 pumpkins from my patch.

He had already promised to buy from another supplier. "Let me give him a call," he said, "just to make sure they're still planning on it." The other grower's seeds had not come up, and so he had no pumpkins to sell. The store manager agreed to purchase 1,000 of my pumpkins. I was ecstatic.

A Frosty Setback
In North Dakota frost usually comes in September, so I picked my pumpkins then. The problem was that only 250 of them were orange. I tried putting them on trailers so we could put them in the sun during the day and return them to the shed at night. But they were taking forever to ripen, and a deadline was soon approaching. I had promised the grocery store 1,000 pumpkins by the first of October.

Pumpkin Trivia

  • I planted all the pumpkin seeds by hand--1,038 deep-knee bends. I could hardly walk the next day.

  • The pumpkins averaged 15 pounds each. The largest weighed 49 pounds.

  • I got 12 cents per pound for them.

  • I hauled them into town on our trailer in cardboard bins. I took 400 on each trip to West Fargo, for a total of 2,000 pumpkins.

  • I sold 3,500 large pumpkins, 700 pie pumpkins, and 900 mini pumpkins.

  • The seeds are delicious when roasted and salted, and the pie pumpkins make wonderful bars and pies.

  • Yes, I plan to raise pumpkins again next year.
  • Desperately I sought help. Two government agencies that specialize in vegetables told me to throw them out because a green pumpkin won't ripen. I began to panic. How was I going to fulfill my obligation?

    Then I talked to my aunt, a veteran gardener, who gave me a bit of advice. "Bring them inside where it's warm and they'll ripen," she said. After cranking up the heat in our shop, we pulled all of the pumpkins indoors. Within 24 hours I could see them starting to change color. When the produce manager called for more pumpkins, they were ready.

    No Water, No Problem
    Everyone told me that pumpkins can't grow without water, but we had no money to install an irrigation system for the dry North Dakota soil. I decided to take my chances without irrigation and trust the Lord. The first year's crop had been good without irrigation, but the summer months of 2002 were scorching hot, even breaking a temperature record in August. The heat sucked a lot of the moisture from the ground.

    While walking through my patch every day, I said to the Lord, "My pumpkins sure could use a drink of water." He helped me realize that if He can create a pumpkin out of nothing, He can make one without water. I ended up with 2,500 pumpkins, more than double the amount considered a good crop.

    Pumpkin Overload
    The next challenge was marketing all the pumpkins. Our local grocery store bought 1,000 from me the first summer. The manager mentioned that it might be possible to sell to nine more stores in the chain. So the next year I stepped out in faith and planted two acres. When it came time to market them, I found out that the other stores had a supplier and weren't interested in buying my extra pumpkins.

    1543 story9A huge lump began to form in my throat. What was I going to do with 2,000 pumpkins? I prayed, then I went to work.

    I called many businesses in town, hoping they would use my pumpkins to decorate their offices for fall. Our bank purchased 235 pumpkins--enough for all five branches. But I still had a lot of pumpkins left.

    When I was at my lowest point, I received a phone call from a complete stranger. I don't know how he got my name, but he owned the Farmers' Market in West Fargo and was looking for pumpkins. He wanted whatever I had. My kids were amused when, like the healed paralytic in the Bible, I began walking and leaping and praising God.

    Have We No Heat?
    While I had many more ripe pumpkins the second year, many were still green. Pumpkins covered the shop floor so the heat could ripen them. My husband remembered that when the heat was turned off the previous spring he had noticed something wrong with the system. The water used for heating drains into a slough by our house. Not sure if a line was broken, Dwight said I might have to wade into the slough. But when we turned it on, the system worked. Again we were blessed, and the pumpkins ripened beautifully for only $7.10.

    In Good Health
    Despite all the heavy lifting, no one hurt their back during pumpkin harvest. My husband and three of my kids helped me with the harvesting. We lifted 60,000 pounds of pumpkins four times. After 3,000 pumpkins, the kids mutinied, so Dwight and I picked another 1,000.
    At one point I heard one of the kids whining about having to help pick. John, my 13-year-old, scolded, "Don't complain; we're building a church."

    Beauty of the Harvest
    1543 story9The pumpkins were beautiful. The man who sets up displays for the grocery store chain said they were the nicest ones he had seen. According to one of the produce workers, he said, "I think God is in your pumpkin patch." It was a joy having a small part in growing these pumpkins.

    I wanted to give all the money I earned to missions, but I didn't know exactly where I wanted it to go. The first project I had chosen hadn't materialized. Then Jon Turk, the Dakota Conference trust services associate director, spoke in our church and mentioned the need for churches in India. I knew this was what I wanted to do with my pumpkin money. The amount needed for one church was $3,500. God blessed me with $7,000 in profit, enough for two churches.

    Do you have a hobby? Maybe you could use it for the Lord. Trust Him and see what happens. God doesn't just bless pumpkin ladies; He blesses us all.

    Cheryl Erickson lives in Buchanan, North Dakota. She has raised enough money to build 10 church buildings in India, one in Nicaragua, and one in Tanzania. This article is adapted from one that appeared in the Mid-America Outlook.