ALACHUA ‒ What has become a 22-year annual event each fall has returned to Alachua. The 1st United Methodist Church has been selling pumpkins of various sizes and colors during the month October at a field fronting U.S. Highway 441 on the west side of Alachua. But they don't just sell the orange gords from a random pile. The various pumpkins are arranged in artful displays, which also include activity areas that are directed primarily toward children's entertainment. They also have a display set up around a vintage tractor to provide a photo opportunity for visitors. And that includes the couple who brought their rescued dogs for a family photo.

The month-long event has become a tradition for many families to celebrate the Halloween season, returning year after year, often taking advantage of the photo area to document the growth of their families over the year..

The Covid Pandemic almost shut down the event in 2020, but the church felt they could safely do the outdoor event. They scaled back all activities except the pumpkin sale, which helps raise funding for their missionary work. This year, the crowds were back as well as additional activities.

Each year they sell around 20,000 pumpkins ranging from 50 cents to $26 a piece as well as homemade pumpkin bread for $8. Setting up the pumpkin patch and all the displays is a group effort for the church with everyone pitching in on unloading, making displays or manning the pumpkin patch. Twice a week, the youths in the church come out and “roll” each pumpkin so it does not go bad from sitting on the same side.

The pumpkins come from the Navajo tribes in New Mexico, where the climate is ideal for growing large pumpkins. A commercial business working with the tribes imports the pumpkins to various churches and stores. The churches keep 40 percent of the profits and the tribe gets 60 percent.

For the 1st United Methodist, the money is used to fund mission work to support a program of up to 40 members who go to various low-income areas in the Appalachians every year to help rebuild houses that need major repairs the owner can’t afford. They also use the money to fund a camp for the deaf, mainly children, in the Dominican Republic. The camp is designed to help these deaf children learn life skills to overcome their challenges they may face.

The church sponsors a number of activities at the site including storytelling, bean bag toss, and the photo area. On weekends they offer hay rides pulled by a tractor. During the week they sponsor school groups to come and enjoy the activities.

While the availability is based on the number of pumpkins they have, this year, they had a second delivery on Oct. 17 since they had already depleted their initial supply. The crowds have been steady so they suggest that people not wait until the last minute to buy a pumpkin to support the church's charity projects.

Hours for the Pumpkin Patch are 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday -Friday, 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and 12-8 p.m. on Sunday. The pumpkin patch is located at15710 N.W. U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

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