Beginning in 1988, we grew a few rows of pumpkins as part of a five-acre milo plot in an attempt to add more income to the family farm operation. With the continued success of our U-pick operation, we planted 16 acres of pumpkins in 2005. These included an early maturing variety to be used in our pumpkin salsa, which corresponds with the ripening of tomatoes on 500 plants and peppers on 100 plants. The majority of the pumpkins we grow are sold as a part of the attraction to visiting Walters’ Pumpkin Patch and picking one’s own pumpkins. There are a total of 73 acres devoted to our agro-tourism business with the remaining acres of the family farm (1600 acres approximately) in grazing and hay production, with crops of corn, milo, and soybeans in rotation. All of these crops, hay production, and cattle ranching are done on our own ground by a neighbor who leases the farm. What began as a hobby in 1988 is now providing sustainability via a mom and pop pumpkin patch.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our goal for this grant was to produce a value-added product from our pumpkins, which would be unique to our operation and give us the opportunity to provide employment within our rural community, plus provide more of a fun, educational experience for our school groups.
Extension was continually involved with our product development. Dr. Fadi Aramouni from KSU “held our hands” as we developed the system for processing our product, and Dr. Vincent met with us on developing a marketing plan for our salsa. Dr. Chuck Marr has been a resource for several years for growing requirements of pumpkins, tomatoes, and peppers. Probably our greatest business contact was a family member and she became involved by accident. At the funeral of our matriarch/mom/grandma, I was telling family members of the problems we were encountering with sealing a pumpkin-shaped candle jar that had “no threads” on which to seal a lid. This niece was a clothing designer and had worked with an Indian company that she thought might be a glass manufacturing connection for us. She put us in touch with one another and jar design began.
Once our jars were in production, we made a couple of salsa jars out of the first jars that were sent for approval. A local photographer put together an advertising photo for our product and took care of getting this photo into postcard form to send out to North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA) members who might be interested in retailing our new product at their pumpkin patches. As production began, two ladies from our community were hired to help in processing our salsa, thus creating jobs in our area. We were getting our value-added product to market, creating jobs, and we were using our unique product to market the Walters’ Pumpkin Patch as well.
We had visions of thousands of 18 oz. jars of Pumpkin Patch Salsa being shipped from Walters’ Pumpkin Patch at Burns, Kansas. With the first attempts of canning our product, we soon realized that we had problems with our 18 oz. jars. They weren’t sealing and upon further investigation, we realized the handmade jars were just a fraction too wide, which inhibited the metal canning flat from successfully connecting to the jar rim. One night in the middle of a restless sleep about salsa production I’m sure, I happened to come up with our plan B…our 10 oz. pumpkin jar just might be used for salsa instead of pumpkin butter as originally planned. Plan B was successful and we geared up again after being sorely disappointed with the original plan. While planning the design of a shipping box with a Love Box representative, I explained our need for a six compartment box to hold 10 oz. jars instead of 18 oz. as originally planned. He suggested using a one piece lid like he’d seen used with other products. I contacted our lid supplier and they shipped us a couple of one-piece white lids. We attempted the 18 oz. jars again and the lids sealed! However, the lids were white and ruined the appearance of our pumpkin jar with its rusty red contents of tomatoes and pumpkin. We have contacted multiple suppliers, and those that carry a metal one-piece lid to fit a wide mouth canning jar only have a white lid…no gold. So we are using our 18 oz. jars for a fresh pumpkin salsa sold during our fall season on the farm. We are also selling our jars as candle and candy jars. The jar manufacturer has contacted us. They have fixed the problem with the larger pumpkin jars and want us to let them know when we are interested in ordering more jars. But first we have to deplete our first order of 3000 18 oz. jars and 1000 10 oz, jars, and deal with the fact that shipping will prove to be very expensive on a box of six 18 oz. jars with gas prices at the levels they have risen to. This has all worked out incredibly well for the obstacles we encountered.
I believe our Pumpkin Patch Salsa is going to grow into a viable product as we continue to work on our problem areas. Problems at the start were that the induction sealer means of sealing a pumpkin-shaped jar had to be changed and the lid difficulties had to be solved. Now, we face the challenge of finding a supplier of gold one-piece lids, all the while utilizing our 10 oz. jars for salsa, which were originally intended for pumpkin butter. We will continue to produce and market our value-added Pumpkin Patch Salsa and we will begin our next season (2006) by delving into a canned pumpkin product, a tomato juice for bloody marys in a long necked bottle with a cute witch on the label, and roasted, flavored pumpkin seeds, which would otherwise be composted. These three products all come from the by-products of our Pumpkin Patch Salsa and could add even more value to our value added product.
Our outreach consists primarily of marketing our Pumpkin Patch Salsa in our own Pumpkin Pantry at the Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, which was constructed with an attractions grant through the Kansas Department of Commerce and funded by the Kansas lottery. I have spoken to numerous groups about our new product, which is not available anywhere else. We have sent our information postcards to the major pumpkin patches throughout the U.S. But because of the delays we experienced, most of the postcard recipients were already into their fall seasons, and therefore we have not experienced the wholesale sales that we had anticipated originally. However, we do anticipate excellent sales of fresh salsa in 18 oz. jars and canned salsa in 10 oz. jars, and we will profit from candy and candle sales utilizing our jars.
We will attend the January 2006 NAFDMA conference and will have a vendor’s booth (funded by our most recent grant, a federal Value-Added Producer Grant. We will further our marketing with face-to-face promotion of our product. One other angle to this will be wholesaling to the “high end” gift shops in the western area. With such a unique product and packaging we should be able to expand our sales in this area as well.
To produce a value-added product that will provide additional revenue from an alternative crop. The project will focus on packaging and marketing the salsa in a unique pumpkin-shaped jar.