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Center harvests bumper crop from first pumpkin patch

Challenge Center workers trudged tirelessly up the hill behind the tomato greenhouses Thursday afternoon trailing empty carts. The carts soon filled with pumpkins of all sizes and shapes as workers picked and carried the gourds from the field and...

Challenge Center workers trudged tirelessly up the hill behind the tomato greenhouses Thursday afternoon trailing empty carts.

The carts soon filled with pumpkins of all sizes and shapes as workers picked and carried the gourds from the field and piled them on the carts at the order of organizer Ryan McCuskey.

About 200 pumpkins were harvested from the fields to be distributed among the more than 100 workers at the Challenge Center. About 25 workers helped with the harvest, said Debbie Gergen, work services director.

The Challenge Center is a nonprofit organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities. The workers at the center make products and grow tomatoes.

The growers for Bay Produce grew the pumpkins this year for people served by the Challenge Center. The pumpkins will not be sold. Instead they were distributed to the Center's workers today.

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The harvest went well because it was planned out carefully. McCuskey and a group of other workers planned the harvest through a series of weeks.

It's a good-sized harvest of pumpkins, said worker Jenny Heffner. She was excited to take a pumpkin home. "They're good for Halloween," she said.

Carting the pumpkins is quite a workout, said worker David Rogers.

Pumpkins are something new for Bay Produce, said worker Roy Breezee. The crop was good, he said.

Workers were chosen to pick and count the pumpkins. Others were chosen to pull the carts loaded with pumpkins back to the center's lunch room.

Earlier in the day, Bay Harvest workers had celebrated the success of its tomato production and sales, which are both ahead for the year, Gergen said. The day was filled with celebration and anticipation for the pumpkin harvest, she said.

The harvest was the center's first attempt at growing pumpkins. The crop was a way for Bay Produce grower, Henk Vandenbrink, to show his workers how a plant grows.

With pumpkins a person can actually see what happens as they grow because they are so big. The difference between the male and female flowers is easier to point out on a pumpkin than on a smaller plant, he said.

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Challenge Center workers came out every so often to see the pumpkins as the grew from small plants to large gourds.

"I came to look at them growing," McCuskey said. "I came to check them everyday."

The pumpkins weren't hard to grow during the dry summer because the Challenge Center used the recycled water from its tomato operations to water the pumpkins.

"They have a lot of fun with it," Vandenbrink said. "Anytime you have to think about something, do it differently, that's what the Challenge Center is about."

Organizing the harvest gave workers a chance to plan how to transport the pumpkins and count them.

The organizers considered several different ideas about how to get the pumpkins down the hill from a bucket brigade to bringing a truck up the hill, Rogers said.

Workers from the center's other operations came to see the pumpkins as they grow as well. A few workers gathered in the lunch area Thursday to see the pumpkins as they came in from the field. Looking forward to their chance to take home a pumpkin home.

"I think it turned out really nice," Rogers said. "I can't wait to take one home and start carving."

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Call Anna Kurth at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail akurth@superiortelegram.com .

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