Pumpkin Patch welcomes buyers and lookers

PumpkinPatchL-R: Nineteen month old Troy Webster and his 3 ½ year old sister, Aubrey, discover that navigating the 5,000 pumpkins in the First United Methodist Church Pumpkin Patch requires balance and determination as they make their way between the bright orange harbingers of fall.

ALACHUA – The crisp fall air wasn’t all that settled into the heartland communities last week as the First United Methodist Church unloaded some 5,000 pumpkins for its youth ministry’s annual “Pumpkin Patch.”

With the fall season in full swing and Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to get in the spirit than now.  And nothing says ‘fall’ better than pumpkins.

Whether for carving into jack-o-lanterns, baking in a pie or simmering in a stew, pumpkins of every kind are available.

The youth at First United Methodist Church of Alachua are conducting the month-long fundraiser that began Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 31.

The 11th annual Pumpkin Patch, located on U.S. Highway 441 just north of Hitchcock’s Market, is open for business Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 9 p.m.  Pumpkins of every size and shape are available, along with gourds.  Prices range from 50 cents for the smallest variety to $60 for a glowing orange pumpkin of which any doorstep would be proud.  Also for purchase are pumpkin cookbooks, pumpkin bread and hay bales, all just $5 each.  Or, show your “pumpkin patch” pride with a tee-shirt for $10.  Skip carving altogether with terracotta jack-o-lanterns for $10.

Pumpkins aren’t all the First United Methodist Church of Alachua’s patch has to offer.  Patch organizer Anne Gay said she is scheduled to host more than 650 children from area schools throughout the month.  Groups participating in scheduled events include Sidney Lanier, P.K. Yonge, Lee’s Preschool, Oak Hall, a local Girl Scout troop and numerous others.

Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until noon, the patch hosts the school children and others who stop by on a morning adventure that includes hayrides, storytelling, face painting, sack races and bean bag tossing.  The hayrides and activities are also available each Sunday afternoon until dusk and most Saturday afternoons until dusk.

“Every child that comes through this patch leaves with four things,” Gay said. “A pumpkin prayer bookmark, a pumpkin patch sticker, a lollipop and a smile.”

The public is also welcome to attend a fall festival this Sunday from 2-6 p.m. The event is free to everyone and will include free food, a bounce house, hayrides and numerous other activities.

“The festival is our gift to the community,” said Gay.

The pumpkin patch is a fundraiser for the youth ministry of the church to reach their financial goals, enabling them to go on mission trips.

“This pumpkin patch helps our youth go on mission trips so they can help other people…That’s what this is really all about, helping others who are less fortunate than we are,” said Gay.

The youth ministry participates in the Appalachian Service Project and went on a mission trip to Kentucky last year, where they joined with other groups from across the southeast in helping to repair homes from that area.

The pumpkins are grown and picked in New Mexico by Navaho Native Americans.  According to church officials, prices are set through Pumpkin Patch headquarters and are non-negotiable.

Although the patch is open through the end of the month, Gay said there isn’t a guarantee of a second shipment of pumpkins and she encourages folks to stop by sooner rather than later to have their pick.