Weathering the storm — hurricanes have early impact on pumpkin market

Servando Lopez (left) and Carlos Gonzales unload pumpkins from a truck to a conveyor belt to be sorted Monday afternoon at Davis Farms in Clovis. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)photo: Sharna Jo

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Every October, Jacqueline Davis searches for the perfect pumpkin. Her mission, however, is a little different than average enthusiastic pumpkin picker’s — Davis is the wife of a pumpkin farmer.

By the end of the month, she and her husband Kenneth will have shipped more than 100 truckloads of pumpkins to grocery stores across the country. The couple reserves 150 acres of farmland for the famous vegetable and spends all summer raising the bright crop.

“I used to pick a couple pumpkins to take home with me. But now, I just search for one special pumpkin. The perfect pumpkin is round with a pretty stem,” said Davis from inside her office, a square hut stationed next to the pumpkin patch.

Outside, workers plucked up pumpkins, neatly arranged in rows, and plopped them on and off trucks; others sorted pumpkins by size on a pumpkin-assembly line powered by a conveyor belt. One woman tapped each passing pumpkin with a wooden stick — “if a pumpkin is diseased,” Davis said, “it sounds like flour when you tap on it; if it’s good, it sounds like tapping on a basketball.”

Employed at the pumpkin patch are about 25 seasonal workers, Davis said. The fruits of their labor — boxes and boxes of pumpkins — are just weeks away from jack-o-lantern status, some already in trucks bound for Mississippi and Louisiana.

“I picked my perfect pumpkin Friday,” Davis said. That pumpkin, she said, will remain uncarved, not for lack of Halloween gusto, but because farm duties gobble up her free time.

The couple said the majority of their pumpkins are sent to southern states, simply because of proximity. Business this year was slow at first due to Hurricane Katrina and Rita damage, Kenneth Davis said.

“We are bouncing back now,” he said. “We have a load (of pumpkins) that just left for Gulfport, Miss. That surprised me. But it seems like things are getting back on track there.”
It’s been a good harvest, so far, the Davises said — not a lot of rain.

But a good harvest, she said, isn’t the brightest part of the pumpkin business.

“Sometimes a family friend will bring a child (to the farm). Like the other day, distant kin folk visited, and their little boy picked out a pumpkin. The joy on his face was just so cool. That’s the best thing about the season — just seeing the joy on children’s faces when they get that pumpkin,” said Jacqueline Davis, filling out paperwork for the next batch of outward bound pumpkins.