LAKE ALFRED – On a recent weekend when Central Florida got hit by two days of nonstop rain, Vondrell Smith spent a Saturday afternoon sitting in her car, watching a field full of pumpkins, and getting out only when someone else pulled up.
“I was sitting right out here,” she said, of the field across the street from the First United Methodist Church in Lake Alfred, which is now covered with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. The rain made for a long day, she said, but didn’t completely discourage the general public from coming out to go pumpkin shopping.
“One lady got out of her car and said ‘I want to take some pictures and buy some pumpkins,’ “ Smith recalled. “She said, ‘You’re good to be sitting out here.’ I said, ‘If I can sell pumpkins, I’m going to.’ “
Smith, a resident of Winter Haven, spent Saturday at that field, manning a table with two other church volunteers, Kareem Paul of Winter Haven and Zakhary Woelk of Lake Alfred, at the annual pumpkin patch that the church sponsors. A cold spell had ushered in milder temperatures and low humidity, and they were hoping the improved weather would draw out more customers.
“Our goal is to try to get rid of everything,” Smith said. “We hope on a great day like today we get rid of most of them. There’s been some bad days with rain.”
The church has been sponsoring the pumpkin patch for quite a few years, Paul said, adding “It was started a decade ago.”
The pumpkin patch typically opens around the middle to last week of September, since autumn officially arrived on Sept. 23. But this year, they got off to a late start, Smith said, noting “We unloaded them on October 1.”
The reason for the delay was Hurricane Irene, the storm that barreled up the East Coast in August, missing Florida entirely but becoming a tropical storm as it hit Upstate New York and New England, and causing flooding there that damaged farms – including farms that produce pumpkins. That meant fewer pumpkins were available to be shipped to states like Florida for pumpkin patches like the one this Lake Alfred church was sponsoring.
“There was a shortage, so we started at the beginning of October,” Paul said. “But they got down here, and so far business has been pretty good.”
There are a variety of reasons why people go pumpkin shopping, Smith said. Some people want to use them to decorate their home, and give it that look of fall.
But other people want the pumpkins in the hopes that they scare a few trick or treaters on Oct. 31.
“We have people come in and say they want the ugliest pumpkins we’ve got,” Paul said.
Their goal: to carve out a creepy looking pumpkin and then light a candle inside it.
“They want ones that have warts all over them so they can make them even uglier,” Smith said.
And, of course, some people don’t want to decorate with them at all, but instead they plan to do some cooking.
“They want to make pumpkin pie,” Woelk said.
Even when Halloween has come and gone, there’s still Thanksgiving coming up on Nov. 24, and pumpkin pie is often a staple of the family meals on that holiday, so the pumpkins often keep selling past October, Smith said.
After Halloween, “Some people come in and they want to get what’s left,” she said. “Once we’re done, we let them go a little cheaper.”
It’s all for a good cause, she added.
“It’s been around for a while, and it’s a fund-raiser for the church’s youth ministry,” she said.
That’s why their goal is to sell every last pumpkin, large or small.
“They stay here until we sell them off,” she said.
And that’s why these volunteers are always available, Paul said, to sell them.
“We’re here all throughout the month,” he said, “every single day.”
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