Photographs, a UMTV segment and sidebars - UMNS stories #480-481 - are available.
A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
FARMINGTON, N.M. (UMNS) - Once upon a time, there was a young man who didn't know what to do.
His father said, "Son, you have always liked to grow things, why don't you be a farmer?"
So he planted some corn and peas and threw out a few pumpkin seeds.
It was the pumpkins that people loved. Folks came from near and far to buy the big orange vegetables. The young man thought to himself, "What I need is a thousand pumpkin patches just like this all across the U.S."
And that is how Richard Hamby became "the pumpkin man."
Hamby's life does sound a lot like a fairy tale. With his sweet smile and gentle manner, he is a man who seems surprised that, 30 years later, he is still making a living raising pumpkins.
"It's sort of magical in that it started small and it just evolved and it produces a substantial amount of money. It's all based on trust," he says.
He calls his life vocation a "happy accident."
His dream of a thousand pumpkin patches almost came true this year. His company, Pumpkin Patch USA, will deliver pumpkins to 988 churches in 42 states during October. Six hundred ninety-seven of those congregations are United Methodist.
Hamby only sends his pumpkins to churches or other nonprofit organizations, and his crops have helped churches build homes for the homeless, send youth on countless mission trips and even bring people to Christ.
You see, in the right hands, pumpkins can perform miracles.
A healing patch
The Rev. Rob Parsons saw pumpkins heal his community after Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992.
"It was my first appointment, Faith United Methodist Church in Miami," he recalls. "I came in June, and Hurricane Andrew hit us at the end of August. In the middle of all the chaos, someone said to me, 'By the way, we ordered some pumpkins.'"
At the time, Parsons thought a truckload of pumpkins was the last thing he needed. But when the pumpkins arrived, they gave the community a reason to gather - and heal.
"We made $9,000 that year, and that is how we were able to pay our apportionments," he says.
Parsons, on leave from the ministry after the birth of his third child, now works in Pumpkin Patch headquarters in North Carolina.
He says pumpkins have brought people into the church, and he knows of cases where pastors have even led some people to Christ in the pumpkin patch.
"In a pumpkin field, people lose the stereotype of what a Christian is and just open up," he says.
Perfect place for pumpkins
Janice Hamby, Richard's wife and pumpkin partner, stays in Greensboro, N.C., while Richard goes out to the fields in Farmington.
The Hambys first grew their pumpkins in North Carolina, but Hurricane Hugo changed that when it struck in 1989.
"Hurricane Hugo wiped out my fields, so I had to look for another place to grow my pumpkins," Richard says. He found the perfect place on land owned by the Navajo Nation. Pumpkins are grown through the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, the Navajo Nation's farming and agribusiness enterprise.
Farmington only gets 4 to 6 inches of rain a year. The irrigation system set up on the Navajo land lets the farmers control the amount of water the crops need. Pumpkins are pampered in their soft beds of silky, brown dirt.
The weather is perfect for pumpkins - hot during the day and cool at night. They grow plump, round and orange just at the right time for harvest in late September and early October.
Most of the workers harvesting the pumpkins are from the Navajo reservation. Pumpkin Patch USA pumps more than $2 million into the local Navajo economy through jobs and land rent permits.
Stepping out on faith
Tina Jones, chief financial officer for Pumpkin Patch USA, says the best thing about her job is knowing she is really making a difference.
"Last year, the individual churches that sold pumpkins kept for their own various projects over $3.5 million," she says. "They used their money for hospice, for mission trips, for Habitat for Humanity - a lot of different projects. It's a great feeling to be a part of an organization that provides those kinds of benefits."
Jones says it is a business based on faith.
Pumpkin Patch USA grows the pumpkins and ships them to churches at no charge. The churches take the pumpkins on consignment and are not responsible for anything broken, damaged, stolen, rotten or left over at the end of the sale. Back at pumpkin headquarters, the staff just waits for the churches to send the money.
"What happens is we incur a tremendous amount of expense before we ever ship the first pumpkin - millions of dollars," Jones says. "And then we send them to the churches completely on faith, on trust that they will set up their patch and sell pumpkins and be diligent in that process."
The churches keep 25 to 40 percent of the profit, depending on their gross sales. More information is available at www.pumpkinsusa.com or by calling (800) 453-9793.
Hamby says he has heard the United States might have a pumpkin shortage this year because of so much rain on the East Coast.
Grinning, his parting words are: "Buy a pumpkin from one of the churches this year. It's going to be a short year, and it should be a good year for the churches."
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*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.