Sunday, October 24, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Farmers find pumpkins profitable

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Family farmer Tom Theobald makes a bank run every Friday afternoon in October and November and, unlike many other family farmers, this bank run is not to take out a loan.

        About eight years ago, the Theobalds discovered orange pumpkins grown on the back 40 acres have an awesome power to attract Buckeyes and greenbacks to this old family farm.

        Pumpkins are becoming a mainstay commodity of Ohio farm families because they are easy to grow and command a good price. The fruit is a symbol of how even the most traditional of American businesses, the local farmer, can embrace entrepreneurial change and survive.

        “Pumpkins are a big part of the bottom line,” Mr. Theobald said of the family's Barn N Bunk Farm Market, 3677 Wayne Madison Road at Ohio 73. “It's entertainment. It draws people. We have straw mazes and corn mazes, hayrides and scarecrows of straw, some birthday parties.”

        Like the Theobalds, farmers across the state are increasingly growing pumpkins to round out their harvest season. This farm has festival weekends for corn, strawberries and pumpkins. There is a Christmas open house for fresh-cut trees. But this time of year, the farm focus is on pumpkins.

        In 1997, Ohio harvested 4,265 acres of pumpkins and ranked sixth in the United States behind Illinois, New York, California, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

        Indiana ranked 11th, according to the 1997 census of agriculture, compiled every five years.

        That 1997 acreage count for Ohio is a 28 percent increase from the 3,345 acres harvested in 1992, said Jim Ramey, state statistician for National Agricultural Statistic Service in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

        But it is next to nothing when compared with acres in Ohio planted for soybeans, though. “That's about 4 million acres,” he said “— a real magnitude of difference.”

        No cash figures are available for pumpkins because so many are unsold and abandoned, he said. One thing is certain: Folks are not making more fritters with them.

        “About the only thing people use them for are jack-o'-lanterns,” Mr. Ramey said. “Pumpkins are invisible until you get to October.”

        Mr. Theobald finds his 8-year-old vegetable and fruit stand and related activities have made his farm a destination for suburbanites in Southwestern Ohio who want to get a taste of autumn and the great outdoors by visiting a farm.

        Schools, too, come to the farm so children can learn about history and how the harvest affects commerce. Sometimes, people come to the farm for reasons that have nothing to do with agriculture. “We had a wedding in the barn the other day,” he said.

        Mr. Theobald said the Friday afternoon bank trips are definitely not to take out a loan and not necessarily to deposit cash.

        When hundreds of visitors show up on autumn weekends to goof around in the country, maybe buy a pumpkin or two, there is at least one retailing mistake a farmer doesn't want to make. This family has learned the hard way, too.

        “You just don't want to run out of quarters,” Mr. Theobald said. “Whenever I do, I run into the carwash. They always have quarters.”

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? Call him at 768-8386 or e-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



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