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Pumpkins, Ready For Picking, Have Made It To North Central Florida

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Thousands of pumpkins were sent on a 1,500-mile journey from the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico to one of the first patches to pop up in North Central Florida just off of U.S. 441 in Alachua.

In its 13th year, the patch is run by First United Methodist Church of Alachua to raise funds for its youth mission trips in and out of Florida. The colorful vegetables are priced from 50 cents to $35 — the largest weighing in around 20 to 25 pounds.

Scarecrows, hay bails and tractors were among the bright orange sea of about 3,500 pumpkins and “minis” at the patch.

Megan Bultemeier, youth director at First United Methodist Church, helps organize the patch and all of the fall themed events including face painting, hay rides, photo opportunities, mini mazes and other games.

“I feel that once people start seeing pumpkin patches, they really feel like it is fall,” Bultemeier said.

She said several thousand visitors would stop by the patch this October. A few hundred came out to annual Family Fun Day last year, and they are expecting the same turnout at this year’s event on October 19 from 2 to 6 p.m.

“This is something that is special, it’s only for a certain amount of time and it’s just so colorful and fun,” Bultemeier said.

The patch is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.

Although the company they work with reported smaller pumpkins compared to last year’s boom, the church seemed to have larger pumpkins in stock this year.

Some crops were ruined in the Midwest, a great source of pumpkins, due to heavier rain this year, but according to former environmental engineer Blake Slemmer, prices don’t seem to be affected yet due to supply in other parts of the country.

Pumpkins are often shipped to Florida, he said, because the moisture-rich climate isn’t perfect for pumpkins.

Volunteers who work at the patch rotate the pumpkins several times a week to keep them from getting ruined.

Slemmer now maintains websites that connect people with local farms all over the world.

His most popular website, pumpkinpatchesandmore.org, is a country-wide guide to pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hay rides, fall festivals and more. The site splits Florida into five geographic categories, where locals can submit fall festivities and locations.

Slemmer said he loves his work and he recommends trying his pumpkin recipes found on the website.

“There are certain things that touch back to our childhood,” he said.

Slemmer said scientists have done studies that prove certain smells bring back strong, positive emotions from childhood.

“So a pumpkin patch, I think is one of those things, and Halloween for most children is a very fun happy event,” he said. “Free candy, wearing costumes — nothing is better than that for a kid.”

In the current economy, Slemmer said, everybody is looking for healthy and relatively inexpensive, fun things to do with their kids.

Iris Coe-Gross, a mother of two from Gainesville, admitted that although Halloween was not her favorite holiday when she younger, she now brings her 2-year-old son and 6-month old daughter to the church’s patch to play with the pumpkins.

“I am having a lot of fun enjoying it with my son because he doesn’t care about any other holiday except for this one,” Coe-Gross said. “So, I think it’s going to be like our family’s big traditional holiday to have.”

The family visited the patch on Monday.

“Our favorite holiday is Halloween,” she said, “so we get super excited and we usually try to hit all of the pumpkin patches in town.”

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