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Some Halloween pumpkins grown on Navajo land in N. Mexico

Each October, churches and other nonprofit organizations sell pumpkins as fundraisers. But some of these gourds take a much longer journey from patch to home.

Light House, an Annapolis homeless shelter and support center, gets its annual pumpkin fundraiser supplies from Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers, Inc., a North Carolina-based company that grows pumpkins on Navajo land in New Mexico.

According to Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers’ website, the company’s owner, Richard Hamby, grew his own pumpkins in the Carolinas and Georgia until his crop was destroyed in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He then sought out a new place to grow the gourds, eventually reaching an arrangement with the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, where his company would lease the land and pay for the materials and labor required to harvest and ship the pumpkins.

Hamby declined to comment further than saying his company supplies pumpkins to eight to 10 organizations in Maryland, and more than 1,000 groups nationwide.

Lou Shapiro, the pumpkin patch chairwoman on the Friends of the Light House Shelter board, said that while the pumpkin patch, held at St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Annapolis,  isn’t the group’s biggest fundraiser, it provides critical outreach to the community.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people participate in making the patch work,” Shapiro said. “Local businesses also contribute things for the pumpkin patch event.”

There are a number of local farms that grow and sell their own pumpkins, both to the public and to groups for fundraisers. But Carolyn Houck, the cofounder of Light House Shelter’s pumpkin fundraiser, said what makes Pumpkin Patch Fundraiser’s deal so appealing is the business model behind it.

“We don’t buy the pumpkins from anyone, they’re consigned to us,” Houck said. “So we make money based on how much we sell. It would be too expensive to buy and resell the pumpkins, so this is really the only way to do that.”

Kay Ripley at Baugher’s Farm in Westminster said that more than 30,000 people have taken the hayride to their patch to pick their own pumpkins, and that they sell pumpkins at a wholesale price for churches and other groups. She was not overly concerned about the prospect of competition from out-of-state pumpkins.

“We’re in competition with everyone from Walmart to Safeway, so we compete in a market that’s nationwide all the time,” Ripley said. “There’s a lot of interest in ‘pick your own.’”

The entertainment aspect of their pumpkin patch, and the concept of “pick your own produce” helps Baugher’s stand apart from the traditional grocery store, she said.

“With us, it’s the experience of going out and having the country ride,” Ripley said. “You can come get a pumpkin here at our stand, and it’s the same price as the ‘pick your own,’ so they do it for the fun experience. In that regard, our marketing is a little bit different, and we fill a different niche within the community.”