Hybrid pumpkin cultivates funds for breast cancer research

Thursday, October 29, 2015
A heap of pink pumpkins lay dormant after being collected on Colvin Farms in Glasgow. Soon they will decorate porches, tables and lawns across Missouri. (Michaela Leimkuehler/Democrat-News)

On a crisp October evening, Richard Colvin, owner of Colvin Farms in Glasgow, surveys his front yard filled with various sizes and colors of pumpkins. There are orange ones the size of pot-bellied pigs and red ones the size of curled-up cats. Amid the various sizes and shades, blush pink pumpkins are stacked randomly on straw bales.

"This was the first year our seed rep had them available," Richard said.

The newest pink pumpkin variety to Colvin Farms is trademarked as the Porcelain Doll F1. But It's not just their exotic pink exterior that will capture the attention of pumpkin pickers. With every purchase of this traditional hybrid, non-GMO pumpkin, a donation of 25 cents will go directly to organizations conducting breast cancer research, according to the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation website.

A Porcelain Doll F1 pumpkin awaits picking in one of Colvin Farms' pumpkin patches. (Michaela Leimkuehler/Democrat-News)

The mission of the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation, as stated on the organization's website, is to aid in the fight against breast cancer.

"Unfortunately, breast cancer is one of those diseases that has affected so many people, directly and indirectly," said the president of the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation and breast cancer survivor, Carol Holsopple Froese, in an email on Oct. 8. "As members of the produce industry, we want to be a part of the cure, in any way we can, which in our case means doing what we know, which is agriculture. By giving funds to these wonderful researchers year after year, we hope we are getting closer to a cure."

Cultivating and growing pumpkins has been a part of Richard's life since he was 12 years old.

"My mom told me (I) just needed to do something to make a little money, so I started planting a few pumpkins," Richard recalled.

'A few pumpkins' evolved into 18 acres that account for his pumpkin, gourd and squash crop today.

"When I got into high school, I got really big into the economics part of it," Richard said.

He developed a business plan in school that plowed the way for his current farm. When he was just starting out, he had to modify an old corn planter to handle the pumpkin seeds. It took three to four years of experimenting and adjusting before he finally got it right.

Richard unearthed the Porcelain Doll F1 pumpkins in a seed catalog in the fall of 2014.

"We try to put on something new at least every year, if not every other year we raise something different," Richard noted. "I've never seen anything quite like it."

Straw bales are stacked throughout the Colvin's front yard for the numerous pumpkin and gourd displays. The satisfied customers that come back year after year to purchase produce are Colvin Farms' only form of advertisement. Aside from word of mouth, they also sell wholesale pumpkins to roadside stands closer to larger cities. With every visitor that stops by, Richard explains what the Porcelain Doll pumpkins are, or the reason behind growing them on their farm this year.

"Everybody has a place in their heart for something like that," Richard said.

The cost for a Porcelain Doll F1 seed is a bit higher than an average orange pumpkin seed. Although it costs a little more upfront, the pink-skinned fruit has proven it can keep up with its orange counterpart.

"They've been good," he said. "They're real good producers."

According to PPPF's website, pink pumpkins will start off with a salmon color and will develop a pinker shade with each day of growing. All varieties of pumpkins have an average maturity of 100 days.

"We've cut some that I thought were a little immature and they went ahead and turned the harder pink," Richard explained. "They feel different. It's like the skin almost cures up on them. All pumpkins do that."

Colvin Farms has already sold between 500-700 pink pumpkins this season. Planting pumpkins usually begins the third week in May on the Colvin Farm. This year, due to increased rainfall and wet conditions, the pumpkins were not planted until the second week in June.

"Maintenance on them seems like it's getting harder," Richard stated. "The bugs are getting worse. Fungus is getting worse. This year we've sprayed fungicide all year long."

Due to the wet weather and where the pumpkins were planted, Richard said he lost about 40 percent of his crop.

"Pumpkins really don't like wet weather," he said. "The vine can't handle moisture at all."

Not all growers in Missouri were as fortunate as Colvin Farms to have even a below-average harvest this year.

"I sure wish I'd have been able to get the seed in the ground," said Paula Burkhart with Grand Valley Farms, located in Moberly, in an email on Oct. 6. "This abnormally wet spring did not allow me to get any pumpkins or gourds planted! I am freezing the (Porcelain Doll) seed in hopes of being able to plant them next summer."

Another pumpkin supplier in Waverly, Peters Orchard and Market, had trouble getting their usual pumpkin supply as well. They have had very few pumpkins this year due to wet weather conditions in the spring. They were not able to produce the crop they would have hoped for this year.

Despite Mother Nature's soggy plans and the bugs' fierce appetite this year, Richard, like many other farmers in Missouri, will plant Porcelain Doll F1 seeds next spring with the hope of harvesting a pink crop in the fall of 2016. The pink pumpkins are just one way farmers can contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer. Just like Carol Holsopple Froese said: "As members of the produce industry, we want to be a part of the cure, in any way we can, which in our case means doing what we know, which is agriculture."

Contact Michaela Leimkuehler at mleimkuehler@marshallnews.com