Farming had not been doing well for a few years. So, in the year 2000, Cheryl Erickson’s husband said, “Why don’t you take that little patch up on the hill by our house and see if you can make some money with a specialty crop.”
Cheryl experimented with several crops, including lavender, herbs, and alfalfa, but finally decided to try one acre of pumpkins.
That fall, she harvested 1,100 pumpkins and sold them to the local grocery store in Jamestown, North Dakota, United States. She soon learned that growing pumpkins is very labor intensive, and it would not be feasible to grow them on a large scale. With this new information, her husband, Dwight, said she could use the money for a mission project. This was the beginning of her 21-year pumpkin career and partnership with God.
Cheryl didn’t know what mission she wanted to direct the funds to that first year. When a Dakota Conference worker came to speak in their local church, he mentioned the need for churches in India. He explained that people were coming to the Lord by the thousands, but without a building to worship in, they often fell away from their newfound faith.
“The light came on, and I knew what I wanted to give my money to!” Cheryl says.
Most years, Cheryl planted one and a half acres of pumpkins. This equaled 400 mounds with five seeds in each mound. If she planted the plot by herself, it would take three very long days and 400 deep-knee bends. Throughout the summer, not only would she till and pull weeds but would also spend time walking in the field, praying over the plants.
Harvesting pumpkins was much too overwhelming by herself, so she enlisted the help of family, friends, and church members. Together they could harvest 2,000 to 5,000 pumpkins in one day.
Cheryl says it worked like a well-oiled machine. First, people would cut the pumpkins from the vine and set them upright. A second group of workers would gather them into piles, and when the Bobcat skid-steer loader came, place them into a large horse trough. The Bobcat would carry the batch to another large, round trough filled with water. A third group of workers would gather around and, chatting and laughing, scrub the pumpkins until they were completely clean.
The pumpkins would then be lifted out of the water and placed on a drying rack before they were placed into bins. Another Bobcat would come and carry the full bins to a trailer hitched to a pickup that was waiting to take them to the shop. “It reminded me of the body of Christ, where each part is essential and the cooperation is beautiful to watch,” Cheryl says.
After 21 years, 65,000 pumpkins grown, 25 churches built, and too many miracles to count, Cheryl has decided to shift gears. Though she isn’t planting pumpkins any longer, she would like to continue to raise funds for the church project.
“I decided to write a book and use the proceeds to keep building churches in India. I also want to provide inspiring, uplifting, true stories to give hope and reassurance in these uncertain times,” Cheryl says. Her book is full of happy stories of God’s faithfulness and ability to answer prayer while solving problems. “I share many of the miracles that took place in my pumpkin patch as well as the lessons I learned.”
The book is written in a devotional style, with pictures accompanying each chapter. “It is my hope that people will be inspired to pick their own missionary project after reading my book. What I have done is only a drop in the bucket, but if we each put in a drop, soon the bucket will be full,” she said.
Cheryl describes raising pumpkins as a wonderful, faith-building experience. “In trying to help others, I myself have been the one helped. I have felt God’s presence as I walked and talked with Him in my field, and I have grown spiritually as I have seen His watchful care over me and my plants.
“I was actually able to go to India one year and dedicate my own church! It was my privilege to wash the feet of one of the new members of that church, and I tried to embed the woman’s face in my memory so when we see each other in heaven, I can look at her and say, ‘It’s so nice to see you again!’ ”