So I wanted to tell you all about our pumpkin parties and show you a bit of the action before they're done for this year. I think this is about the 13th or 14th year that we've been having "official" pumpkin parties at our Market in Park Rapids.
For those of you who aren't familiar, my husband's family has been farming and selling wonderful produce in this area for over 50 years now. We start off in May each year, opening somewhere around Mother's Day, and sell bedding and garden plants along with tart rhubarb and tender asparagus. From there, we move on to selling cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries (including u-pick), raspberries, peas (snap and shell), green beans, muskmelons, watermelons (red and yellow), sweet and hot peppers, egg plant, spinach, cabbage, dill, green onions, sweet onions (usually, but not this year), kohlrabi (sometimes), radishes (again, somtimes), beets, beet greens, carrots (occasionally), sweet corn, field corn, and at this time of year we finish up with decorative corn, gourds (big and small, including this year an African wine kettle gourd that weighs upwards of 50 pounds!), squash (at least 8-10 varieties), and pumpkins galore! And when I mean pumpkins galore, I mean pumpkins of all shapes, sizes, and colors -- this year we had pumpkins weighing a few ounces to over 500 pounds; all shades of orange, green, white, etc.; "warty" pumpkins; Cinderella pumpkins, and "Long Island Cheese" pumpkins. (We also raise cattle for beef -- tender, hormone-free, and no worries of e-coli or mad cow's disease!) It makes for a very busy time for us, from about February when Tony and his father start planting seeds in the greenhouses to get seedlings ready until the end of December when Tony is reviewing sales and production and ordering seed for the following year.
However, things start getting less hectic by mid-September, so we like to celebrate fall and all its bounty. And if you've never celebrated with the Carter's, you're missing out! (Remind me to tell you sometimes about past weddings and receptions...I'm kinda thankful I joined the family at the end, but at the same time, it would've been hilarious to see the pigs roped on top of David and Rita's wedding car; Dwight, Tony, and Mark Mag doing the bottle dance; and many other things of which I've only heard about and/or seen photos -- for us, we had a dancing gorilla crash our wedding reception and try to take off with me before Tony could get in the car after our wedding). So you can probably figure that Tony goes all out for these pumpkin parties, too!
I laugh; each year he moans about the work involved and declares "next year we're cutting down! It's too much work!" And yet each year more things get added, things become more elaborate, and we get more and more comments about how "the Carter's continue to out-do themselves."
You'll note the photos I'm going to be posting (not sure where in the blog they'll turn up -- at the top? bottom? Right where I want them to?) -- most of these were taken by my wonderful sister-in-law Lori, the first "outsider" to join the Russ Carter family by marrying Tony's oldest brother Paul(since then, another 6 have willingly joined the family, including the first grandson-in-law, and another 18 have been born into it, and we've had one other donate a body part to the Carter family -- thanks, Jean! More on that in another blog...), and are posted with her permission since I still haven't taken my camera to the store to get the photos transferred to disk.
Tony starts planning, oftentimes even the same year, a new and more complex maze that is made of snow fence, straw bales, and corn stalks. Last year he stuck a huge teepee in the middle of the maze, and a few years back he built a bridge in the maze which he incorporates each year now. Many people have the mistaken thought that they can try and find their way through by climbing up and seeing how to get out from there....but please note I said they have the "mistaken thought"! This year's maze is pretty difficult, at least for adults. I've had more adults come in telling me they had to exit from the entrance....while kids continue to zip their way through with little or no problems! I am including a photo of my lovely niece Carrie (Paul and Lori's daughter) and her friend trying to find their way out. You can see a sign in the background, although you may not be able to read it. Tony made up some wooden signs this past year, and this particular one is a Mark Twain quote "It is easier to stay out than get out!" We also hide plastic coins throughout the maze for people to try and find -- if they do find one and turn it in, they get treats. Some kids come just to find the coins, not the way out (even though they get credit for only one coin, regardless of how many they find). Tony's thinking of hiding real coins next year possibly...what do you all think? He also has a quiz that is divided among five stations within the maze with questions about our farm and such. For those who are patient enough to find all the questions and smart enough to answer them all correctly (no, scarecrows are not filled with baloney or with money), again...treats are rewarded.
We have the teepee up again this year -- a couple dear family friends spend time telling "Tales in the Teepee" -- stories the two of them pick, mainly African or Indian fables about animals and safety and other such things often with a scriptural bent. Appropriate and fascinating for all ages.
Last year Tony made up a carpetball table. Now, I've never heard of carpetball until I moved here, but it seems to be a pretty popular game, especially with kids. Similar to bocci ball but on a long rectangular table, each person has five balls (usually billiard balls) which they place anywhere within a certain area on their side of the table. A cue ball is then rolled back and forth, seeing who can knock the other person's balls off first. I should go back and clarify. Tony made a GOURDball table. Yep, we use gourds instead of billiard balls! Another huge hit.
We have a big wooden crow that soaker balls are launched at with a giant sling shot; we have a wooden cut-out cow complete with fake udders for cow milking contests (you'll notice my cutie Luke "milking" the cow); last year Tony also hollowed out a small pond and we give rides in giant pumpkin boats (yes, real giant pumpkins...I think they could probably hold up to about 200 - 250 pounds, but we try to limit it to about 150 pounds); he also made up a really fun, very fast slide this year that is in almost constant use (again, I'm posting a photo of Tony's sister Rita with two of her girls at the bottom of the slide). And last year we started selling concessions -- locally made all-beef hot dogs, two varieties of soup (different each week, from mixes we sell at the Market), chips, pop, coffee, hot cider, and "sweet treats" -- sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins, cupcakes, brownies, rice crispy squares, and whatever else I have time to bake. But my favorite is a new treat this year -- an apple sundae which, if you've not tried yet, you have GOT to stop in a get one!
However, two of the biggest hits for our pumpkin parties are the pumpkin propeller and the wagon ride. The wagon ride starts out as a fun, restful ride on a wagon pulled by a tractor (the oxen that used to pull the wagon died a few years back after living about 20 years)....but then you start to notice scarecrows....that aren't doing their job as a giant crow gets into the corn field, and at some point a gorilla enters the picture. There is usually a huge musical number or two (remember, this is the Carters!) complete with banjos, guitars, ukeleles, and a wash tub, and sometimes bananas and/or silly string enter the picture. I've included a photo of the scarecrow band as well.
Tony thought up the pumpkin propeller years back and improved on it each year until it reached perfection. Complete with bells, wagons, signs, pulleys, etc., it launches pumpkins (although I did see a watermelon fly one time this year) quite a distance while Tony or Rocky the Scarecrow try to catch them. They're usually successful. It amazes me what Tony thinks up and makes, and it scares me because I already see our son doing the same thing....and he's only 3!!
All in all, it's a lot of work, but it's a blast, and we get a great response...we also have people coming from all over the state and some from North Dakota each year. I love that we can offer an alternative this time of year to families who don't celebrate Halloween (like us) while still featuring fall's bounty of pumpkins, gourds, decorative corn, and squash. (We also have apples, but we don't grow them). So if you're in this area, or you want to take a drive this weekend, come on and visit us at the Market! Pumpkin parties are from 10:30 to 5:00 every Saturday in October and often the last Saturday in September. Last chance you have this year!
Love and blessings,