Once again, we planted our pumpkin patch at UF/IFAS Hastings!
But this year, we doubled the number of varieties planted! Of the dozen tested, three are meant for seed roasting while seven are ideal for baking. After our first successful year in 2020, this project has grown to include education for 4-H and urban audiences. We have also included our stakeholders as judges in our pumpkin pie contest, and asked for their assistance. The project leaders, Prissy and Christian, also felt it was important to share the produce with others. With the help of stakeholders, we have donated hundreds of pumpkins with the desire to do more. It has been a wonderful opportunity to produce an alternative crop in the TCAA that brings joy to so many people.
Our 4-H Pumpkin Project includes three events every two weeks: (1) Farm Equipment, Harvest and Data Collection, (2) Marketing and Sales, and (3) Nutrition, Food Safety and Culinary Arts. Our youth learn about the farming equipment and tools, safe handling of pumpkins (and their sensitive stalks), along with data collection in science experiences. We even recorded a ‘Long Island Cheese’ that weighed over 17 pounds and contacted the breeder at Johnny’s with our findings (normal ranges do not exceed 10 lbs)! They assisted us with collecting surveys at the St. Augustine Amphitheater’s Farmer’s Market to assess the marketability, or “curb appeal” of our 12 pumpkins. The youth tallied shoppers’ favorite pumpkin or squash by physical appearance, and used to votes to help determine what to grow next year. This week we’ll be visiting with our FCS agents to bake some pumpkins and roast some seeds! Yum!
We also had our second annual pie competition for Extension faculty and staff within the TCAA. Bakers could utilize one of six different edible varieties grown at UF/IFAS Hastings. Due to the vast number of judges, we asked bakers to prepare 10 mini pies. Pies were judged by appearance, flavor, texture and color. Our judges included local farmers, horticulturists and IFAS administration. We wanted the community to be a part of a project that they helped to support, while also getting stakeholders more involved with our projects. In 2021, the winner of the pumpkin pie contest was our very own 4-H Agent, Ms. Allie Anderson! Her ‘North Georgia Candy Roaster’ pie was a huge hit, with recipes requested.
Since we initiated this trial, one u-pick pumpkin patch has been created in St. Johns County, with other small farmers interested in incorporating pumpkins into their rotation within the TCAA. Pumpkins are not a major part of Florida’s production, but public opinion has shown through our media efforts that the retail interest is there! Our survey efforts have provided great feedback for variety preferences, which we can share with growers to assist them in their seed selections.
This project was funded by St Johns County BOCC, and we are extremely grateful for it! We plan to continue more community efforts, and look forward to sharing all of the fun and exciting new crops coming out of Hastings! Reach out if you or your organization would like to be involved with our educational programs.