Valley Bounty: Pumpkins

Ed Malinowski advocates for a pumpkin on every porch. “I think if you have any love for Halloween and you have a front door and a step, then a pumpkin is order,” he told me during a recent conversation. Malinowski owns Malinowski Farms in North Hatfield. As you might have guessed, he grows a lot of pumpkins.

Malinowski has been growing pumpkins for 53 years, but he still remembers the first pumpkin he ever picked. A neighbor had a single row of pumpkins on the edge of a celery field and “he was kind enough to invite me over to pick one. I was 7 or 8 years old and I thought it was the thrill to end all thrills,” he said. At age 13, Malinowski grew his first pumpkin patch and sold the harvest to a local farm stand. When he took over the family farm as an adult, he was able to turn his love for pumpkins into a decades-long career.

This year, Malinowski grew about 20 acres of pumpkins. He direct seeded the crop in the beginning of June and kicked off harvest in early September. When we spoke, he expected to wrap up the harvest by this weekend, in time to “get some growth on a viable cover crop.” It was a strong year for pumpkin growers, he reported. “We had a good fruit set and far more favorable combination of weather sequences than the deluge of rain we had last summer.”

Unfortunately, the healthy pumpkin bounty attracted more than happy customers to Malinowski’s farm. “This year we had a couple of fields that fattened a lot of venison,” he told me. “Crop damage has become more of a problem in the Valley. There’s a pretty healthy deer population and even though there’s an abundance of acorns this year, they seem to favor the pumpkins and squash while they’re on the table.” In an effort to “dissuade” the deer from snacking on the harvest, Malinowski and his team drove into the fields after dark, flashing their high beams and blasting the horn. While this method ran off the deer temporarily, it was far from a permanent fix. “They still had a tendency to sample like it was a buffet line,” he explained with a sigh.

Deer weren’t the only unwanted visitors to Malinowski Farms this year. Malinowski gave a hilarious explanation of how not to steal a pumpkin last year at CISA’s Field Notes storytelling event (which will be taking place again this year on November 24th at the Academy of Music Theatre!) So, I had to ask him if he’d caught any pumpkin thieves in 2019. “I came close,” he said with a big laugh. He explained that he was harvesting sunflowers from his garden on a recent morning when a neighbor came by to tell him a stranger was poking around in his pumpkin patch. “We flew up there but by the time we arrived, she had left. But there was clearly evidence that things were missing and footprints into the field.”

Halloween is just around the corner so it’s the perfect weekend to swing by a local farm stand to pick up a pumpkin or three. (Please pay the farmer when you do!) As Malinowski puts it, “Pumpkins are a happy crop. Rarely are people not in a good mood when they’re immersed in a bunch of pumpkins.” If you’re looking to cook your pumpkin, he recommends purchasing the smaller sugar pumpkins because “they’re less stringy than the large ornamental varieties.” I pushed Ed to share his favorite technique for baking the orange fruit, but I couldn’t get a recipe out of him. “My method is that I try to be as generous with my pumpkin allotments to every accomplished cook that I know,” he explained. “And then delicious things just come back to me.”

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)