Arizona Specialty Crops Blog
Pumpkins, corn mazes, vegetables and more 5-min video ‘Connecting kids to the foods they eat’.
Indigenous to North America, pumpkins are a member of the squash family, most commonly of Cucurbita pepo. They are a traditional part of Thanksgiving Day celebration here in the U.S. and Canada. They are grown for both pulp, which may find its way into pumpkin pies, and for their recreational use as jack-o’-lanterns for dressing up Halloween celebrations.
Often associated with the fall harvest, pumpkin picking offers a great opportunity to educate kids about local food systems and production. Family pumpkin picking events are becoming a popular form of agritourism, and many farms around Arizona offer fall fun in pumpkin patches. Apple Annie’s outside Willcox, Buckelew Farm outside Tucson, and Mortimer Family Farms outside Prescott all open their pumpkin patches to eager pickers, who can select a ripe pumpkin right off the vine in time for trick-or-treating.
Though the heat of the Phoenix valley rarely allows pumpkins time to fully ripen in time for Halloween celebrations in the Phoenix valley, a number of area farms have gone out their way to give Maricopa County families access to this wholesome fall activity.
For 30 years, Vertuccio Farms in Mesa has been hosting fall harvest celebrations. As part of their fall festival, they construct a maze through rows of head-high corn and host a treasure hunt for kids. A “pizza garden” illustrates the agricultural components of a pizza.
Across the San Tan Valley, Schnepf Farms, operating for 25 years in Queen Creek, grows organic crops of peaches, pumpkins and a variety of vegetables. The Schnepf's focus on U-Pick farming, providing families the opportunity to pick vine-ripened vegetables – squash, lettuce, beets, kale, potatoes, sweet onions and more. Every fall, they host school visits that afford an opportunity to select pumpkins and other squashes, ride a train, or explore the historic outbuildings on their charming acerage.
Since about 1910, four generations of Tolmachoffs have farmed vegetables and livestock south of Phoenix. October at Tolmachoff Farms means opening the pumpkin patch and building corn mazes to amaze kids. School groups make up a big part of the visitors and are instructed on how a big farm operates, the planting seasons, how to tend to crops, when to harvest, and how to prepare vegetables in the kitchen.
Recipe: Southwestern Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Directions: Extract seeds from a pumpkin and rinse thoroughly. Put about 1/2 cup Kosher salt in a bowl and add seeds to the bowl. Squish the seeds around in your hands to get rid of any pulp remaining on the seeds. Rinse salt off seeds and lay them flat on a towel to dry, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 400. Pour 1 tablespoon corn oil to a small bowl, add seeds, and coat thoroughly. Spread seeds on an edged cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and chipotle chili powder (note: cayanne pepper or your preferred chili spice can be used as a substitute).
Bake seeds for 10-12 minutes, stirring at least once to ensure even cooking.