Meet the people behind the pumpkins at PCC’s Harvest Festival
Photos and Story by James Hill
Every year more than 1,000 people from the community visit the Rock Creek Campus for its annual Harvest Festival. Many of them come for the pumpkins and this year they won’t be disappointed.
Sustainability staff Elaine Cole and Nora Lindsey have been hard at work planting, transplanting and nurturing this year’s crop of pumpkins in the Rock Creek patch. Lindsey said it’s a challenge to grow hearty pumpkins in Oregon’s short and cool growing season, but this year, the pumpkin patch yielded more than 750 pounds of pumpkins and gourds for people to take.
“We’ll have the pumpkins laid out in the field,” Lindsey said of the Harvest Fest. “We’ll go through and sort them. The public will have the experience of walking through the pumpkin patch.”
If you’re interested, the Harvest Festival is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19 at the campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road. In addition to the pumpkins, there will be face painting, a petting zoo, hay rides, music and a theater production. The public, students, staff and faculty are all invited to this family event. A $5 donation of canned food is suggested.
The patch is smaller this year as they allow the traditional pumpkin patch plot to go fallow and give it a steady diet of nutrients for a future patch. Both Cole and Lindsey have had to deal with a smaller plot as well as the tricky growing procedures. Lindsey said she started the seeds in a greenhouse in June and transplanted them into compost-rich mounds in July. From an original 4-5 seedlings, Lindsey pared them down to about three for the mound so they have plenty of room to grow. The pumpkins need 100 days to ripen and get large and that’s a chore in Oregon’s climate. Lindsey said pumpkins are fairly simple to grow – not a lot of fuss or work.
“They kind of do their own thing and don’t require a lot of maintenance,” Lindsey said. “The bulk of the work comes at harvest time when they need to be monitored closely to make sure they are ready and don’t have mildew. You can tell if they are ready by how they sound when you knock on them to see if they a hard shell, or have a light spot when they have been sitting on the ground for awhile. It would be nice if it gets cooler before we harvest them because they’ll develop more sugars; even a super light frost is good.”
Cole said the campus grows 800 pounds of pumpkins for the Harvest Festival each year, but due to the shift in the location the event will have around 500 pounds – still plenty of pumpkins for everyone. In addition, the duo said that the earthen oven will be fired up (it’s located near the patch in the Learning Garden) and Cole will bake pumpkin chocolate chip cookies for the crowds from 1-2 p.m.
“We’ll have a little baking demonstration,” Cole said. “We hope that by bringing people out for the pumpkins that we’ll have the opportunity to show the public what else is going on out here like the different food production we’ve got in our community beds, the art and so forth.”
Cole oversees operation of the Learning Garden, which features composting bins and a sustainably designed cob tool shed with a solar powered irrigation system. Food from the garden provides a partial supply for the cafeteria and also is donated to the on campus food bank. Pre-school children, community-based learning students, classes, staff, faculty and students all participate. The garden also is home to much artwork that includes intriguing sculptures (ceramic, steel or wood variety) that have been incorporated into the garden’s design.
But on Oct. 19, the main attraction will be the pumpkins, which seem to be in very good hands.
Cole is the interim sustainability coordinator for the Rock Creek Campus and her focus is environmental education and sustainability in higher education. A lover of composting, Cole is an avid gardener at home and is a master food preserver. Meanwhile, Lindsey started last April and is the campus’ sustainability assistant, managing the garden. She has a background in farming and even started her own cut flower farm called Milk & Flowers after graduating from Evergreen State College and earning a certificate in organic farming from Michigan State University.
“We’re tickled pink that we have her experience here,” Cole said.