The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 16, 2011

Fall Festival provides Good Shepherd with pumpkin lessons

NORTH MANKATO — The bottom-line equation for Good Shepherd Lutheran School in North Mankato is this: three thousand pumpkin seeds plus the labors of elementary students and their parents equals about $7,000 to $8,000 in funds for the school.

But after two years of growing pumpkins, which are the centerpiece of the school’s Fall Festival fundraiser, people at the school say they are reaping more than cash from their horticultural endeavor.

They’ve discovered lessons in math, botany, physical education, marketing ... And there’s  plenty of spiritual teaching the pumpkin patch has provided — thoughts of Gospel parables about the fate of seeds sown on rocky ground, scattered among the weeds or planted on fertile soil.

And this year, organizers wonder if they’re seeing big orange variations of the loaves and the fishes. It was a bad year for pumpkins, weatherwise, the organizers didn’t spend a lot of time on weed control and the harvest was looking pretty sparse.

“We thought we were going to run out,” said Bethany Holtmeier, recalling the reaction to the disappointingly short pile of pumpkins when they were picked. “... It just didn’t look like that many.”

Somehow, though, despite that they’re selling well at the festival and at trailers around town, it appears there might be enough to reach Oct. 31 — maybe as many as 1,000 pumpkins.

“I think God has made sure we always have as many pumpkins as we need,” said Bobbi Urban, a fellow Good Shepherd School Board member who was working the festival Sunday afternoon. “There’s just lots of lessons to be learned here.”

Some have been brought into the classroom. Mrs. Garman’s first and second-graders, for instance, cut a pumpkin open and worked on estimation — predicting the number of seeds inside.

Dylan Holtmeier, 10, said he’s learned about gardening and physical conditioning.

On the botany side, Dylan said he’s figured out the best way to plant pumpkins.

“Like, dig a hole, plant them and make a mound around them,” he said. “They seem to grow better.”

The students did much of the planting last spring and the harvesting this fall. If they wanted a math lesson, they could take the average weight of their pumpkins (about 15 pounds), multiply it by the total harvest (a rough guess was 800) and learn that they’d carried 12,000 pounds of the gourdlike fruit out of the patch — six tons.

Dylan, who figures he carried 75 to 100 of the pumpkins, learned something about fitness from the effort.

“I think you get a lot stronger,” he said.

And you feel good about working together to help your school.

“It actually is kind of fun,” he said.

As for marketing, the students and their parents learned that holding the festival on school grounds on Lor Ray Drive just north of Highway 14 brought more customers than what they did the first year — hosting it at the pumpkin patch on a quarry site off of Third Avenue.

They also found out they could put pumpkins on trailers  at Super America stations, on the school property and at the Applewood restaurant south of Mankato and make a lot of sales using the honor system.

“People have been very honest and generous,” Holtmeier said.

Being a religious school, Good Shepherd didn’t miss the opportunity to tap into the numerous Gospel parables with botanical themes. Dylan immediately recalled one lesson involving the parable of the sower, remembering his pastor asking the students what would happen if the pumpkin seeds had been scattered around the parking lot or planted in the middle of a weed patch.

Too many weeds would keep the plants from thriving, he explained. As for seeds on rocky ground — or parking lots?

“They’d grow and then they’d wither right away,” Dylan said, explaining that the plants need to be able to send down roots to grow in a lasting way.

The festival, which has a $5 admission fee, continues on Saturdays (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sundays (noon to 4 p.m.) through the end of October. Pumpkins cost 20 cents per pound.

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