Pumpkin patches take root at local churches

It's hard to believe that what Webster's Dictionary calls a "coarse trailing vine with gourdlike fruit" could cause such excitement this time of year, but when that first pumpkin rolls out of the truck onto the stage of the local church lawn, crowds flock to welcome it -- and they take pictures.

Such is the case this month as the latest crop of pumpkins debuts with pumpkins galore at Salem United Methodist Church and Covington First United Methodist Church among two of the busiest local pumpkin patches. Both churches use proceeds from their sales to benefit missions and ministries.

"It's not just a Methodist thing, but apparently a lot of Methodist churches have them," Salem UMC's youth co-director Carol Rodock said of the annual pumpkin sale. "It's open to all kinds of churches, but you happen to see a lot of Methodist churches participate."

Rodock and her husband Mike, who are youth directors at Salem UMC, will be on hand Saturday as 1,000 pumpkins arrive from New Mexico for the church's annual pumpkin patch. This is the sixth year Salem has hosted its sale and Rodock said volunteers have decorated an area in the pumpkin patch for people to take fall picture. Many people like to bring their young children out for photos among the pumpkins.

"It's very nice and pleasant to be in the pumpkin patch this time of year," she said.

Pumpkins will be for sale at Salem UMC beginning Saturday, Oct. 8 and continuing through Oct. 31. Prices range from 50 cents for "little ones" to $20 for "giant ones," Rodock said, adding that the average cost for a pumpkin is around $8 to $10.

In addition to pumpkins, she also expects there will be gourds and possibly Indian corn for sale. The pumpkins are coming from New Mexico and the proceeds from this year's sale will go toward funds for next year's Philippines mission trip, as well as for local missions, Rodock said.

The pumpkin patch is open weekdays at 11 a.m., on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at noon. The pumpkin patch will close at dark each day. On Saturday, Oct. 23, the pumpkin patch will be the back drop for Salem UMC's annual barbecue and car show.

"That's always a very festive day because we'll have the barbecue, the car show and pumpkin patch and this year, the men are also doing a silent auction and we'll have cakes too," Rodock said. The barbecue will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the community is invited. Salem UMC is located at 3962 Salem Road in Covington.

Three thousand pumpkins arrived on the grounds of Covington First United Methodist Church last week with more than 100 volunteers ranging in age from 3 years old to people in their 80s turning out to help unload the truckload shipment from Tennessee.

"We're real happy," Covington First UMC's pumpkin patch coordinator Claudia Minge said. "The pumpkins are really beautiful and really big and we feel like they're even fresher than we've gotten before."

Since it began five years ago, Covington First UMC's Great Pumpkin Patch has grown and become a community tradition, Minge said.

"Last year was great and this year before the pumpkin patch even opened, we had people calling to see if we were going to do our pumpkin patch again," she said. "It's become a tradition and a big event. I ran into a man in the grocery store and he told me he always brings his grandchildren.

"That's what's so important to us; that this is something we provide for the community. It's a tradition for families to come to the pumpkin patch and take pictures. It's not just a fundraiser for us, but a community outreach and fun place for families to go."

Minge said the pumpkin patch offers a "great project" for the entire church because from the day the pumpkins arrive and are unloaded until clean-up time, the whole church is involved for a full month of volunteering.

"We do volunteer shifts," she said. "We keep the pumpkins rotated and cleaned and it takes us all to do it."

Pumpkins sell from 50 cents for the small ones to $25 for the biggest, with proceeds divided among different areas of the church to help with ministry and missions, Minge said.

Covington First UMC, which opened the pumpkin patch last weekend during its fall festival and annual chili cook off celebration, will host school and church groups for field trips and programs in The Great Pumpkin Patch.

"The field trip is free," Minge said. "They can buy a little pumpkin for a dollar when they come. We greet them and read them a Halloween story. If they're older, we have a Scholastic movie on how to grow a pumpkin. We have face painting, play games and they wander through the pumpkin patch. Teachers and parents take pictures. Sometimes they all bring a lunch. It's a fun experience.

"It takes about 5-6 volunteers to provide all that for the children. We get excited about it. It's kind of a buzz through the church for a whole month. We have a good time."

Minge said pumpkins left over after Oct. 31 are offered to local farmers for a donation. The pumpkins are fed to their animals.

Covington First UMC's Great Pumpkin Patch is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. The church is located at 1113 Conyers Street in Covington.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.