Going hog wild for pumpkins after Halloween

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These Elkader high school students were on hand to fling pumpkins they picked up for their Environmental Project Monitoring class pumpkin drive. Back row from left are Amy Wiedner, Matt Whittle, Cayden Hansel, Tom Whittle and front, Noah Reinhart (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Each year the fall decorating trend grows in popularity. An estimated $9 billion were spent this year on decorating, costuming and candy consumption. The availability of a wide variety of pumpkins, squash, and gourds, ranging in a large assortment of colors, shapes and sizes, makes this time of year a treasure trove of fun for those wishing to adorn their homes with a Halloween harvest theme.

The city of Elkader in particular was inspired to decorate this fall. Resident author Arthur Geisert wrote and illustrated his most recent children’s book, Pumpkin Island. In his seasonal story with an undertone of the magical, a rising river washes away a pumpkin,  and its seeds sprout on a small island. As the vines grow, the pumpkins take over the city streets of Elkader. After numerous pumpkin desserts, the residents begin to convert the gourds into boats and houses. The pumpkins become such a problem that people started hauling them away to the abandoned stone quarry. Halloween finally arrives and  in a dramatic showing, nightfall overtakes the town, and the faces of the many jack-o’-lanterns glow eerily. While the pumpkins may be gone for the season, Geisert suggests with a final flowering tendril, vines rarely keep to themselves. 

Fast forward to the middle of November. The costumes are packed away, the candy and cupcakes are gone, the first hard frost  came and went and your pumpkins and gourds have lost their luster. Now what?

Thanks to Elkader teacher Ms. Ann Gritzner, and her Environmental Monitoring Project class, in collaboration with Turkey River Farm proprietors Natasha Hegmann and Pete Kerns, the group came up with a plan to help rid residents of their pumpkin waste in an environmentally responsible fashion. 

These passionate land stewards came together with students to create a pumpkin drive. 

Local residents were encouraged to place pumpkin and gourd waste on the curb. Pete and Natasha joined students in Elkader and the group drove around and picked up pumpkins from the participating residents. After the pumpkins were gathered they drove them out to the farm for a pumpkin flinging event to feed Pete’s small herd of Heritage pigs. “The internal flesh of the pumpkins is nutritious in vitamin C and full of protein from the seeds,” states Natasha. The hardy group sent pumpkins flying high into the air with the intention that when they hit the dirt they would split open. Due to soft ground after recent rains not every pumpkin split. No worries, the pigs entertained themselves chasing the whole pumpkins around with their snouts. 

Pete and Natasha have teamed up with the Elkader school system as FoodCorps Alumni helping with various projects. This cheerful duo has brought their expertise and passion of the environment, food, vegetable growing and small animal husbandry to students of all ages. 

Travel overseas has been a great source of information and inspiration for this pair. On a recent trip to China, Pete and Natasha were introduced to a simple spicy noodle recipe —Biang Biang noodles. The noodles are freshly made and quite wide and thick. The word “biang” in Mandarin is an onomatopoeia – it mimics the sound made in the process used to make the noodles, when the dough is pulled and slapped against the working surface. “We both thought it would be a fun recipe to try with the younger students in the classroom,” the two commented. 

Catching the pigs, with their heads buried snout first devouring the tasty pumpkin flesh, made me think of succulent pork roast with a hint of pumpkin pie. It sounds like the perfect culinary pairing. 

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