Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Young brothers' pumpkin venture is a learning experience

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:12 PM

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HANCOCK, Minn. — If you ask the Feuchtenberger brothers what their favorite color is, they might well say orange. Pumpkin orange.

The four — Max, 15, Alex, 14, Ty, 12 and Jed, 9 — see a lot of that color this time of year. The entrepreneurs, through their Four F Farm, raise and sell pumpkins. Most of their sales, including gourds and other fall decorations, occur at a self-service stand at the end of their Hancock farm's driveway.

They also sell at a local grocery store, meat market and the Morris Area Farmers Market.

The venture got started nine years ago following a July 4th storm that destroyed part of the farm's grove. The next year, their parents, Craig and Paula, decided to plant pumpkins. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fertile land and good seed yielded more pumpkins than they could handle. They put the extra pumpkins in a small red trailer at the end of the driveway and sold out within a couple of weeks. The next year they added to the pumpkin patch and also planted sweet corn. Each year they've added more land and have had the sales to match.

As their pumpkin patch has grown, so has Paula's vegetable garden. She markets at the Morris Area Farmers Market. Due to her marketing prowess and working relationship with other growers, Paula has become the farmers market's coordinator.

The family has eight separate gardens and about three acres is planted in pumpkins, said Craig.

When he's not working with his sons on the project, Craig manages the farrow-to-finish hog operation.

The brothers have upgraded their equipment. They used to plant by hand with a jab seeder. Now they use a planter pulled behind the tractor-mower.

Once pumpkins are harvested, each is washed in chlorine bleach to kill germs in the stem to prevent rotting. The pumpkins are set out to dry and sorted by size and price.

The brothers also shock wheat which the city of Alexandria uses in its downtown display.

Some pumpkin proceeds are used to purchase seed for the next season, Max said. One year they bought a small shed used for the self-service business. They've also used it to help buy feeder cattle the brothers raise and sell. They started with two animals and now have five. While some of that money goes back to their farming projects, the remainder is divided among the four. It's placed in their individual savings accounts for college.

It has been a great learning experience. They've learned how to select seed. They pay attention to what their customers like and look through seed catalogs checking out new varieties. Some of the pumpkins are great for pie. Others are decorative.

Max rattles off a list of some varieties — jarrahdale, Cinderella, knuckleheads, gremlins, wolf, Big Max and polar bear.

Some seed is purchased in one-pound bulk packages. Other seed is bought in traditional small-sized packets.

When it comes to the operation, each has a job. They prepare the ground, plant, watch over the gardens, harvest and work with Paula to wash and prepare the produce.

At the farmers market, they're learning to make change under Paula's tutelage. They answer customers' questions and sometimes, like Jed, earn a tip.

It's easy to spot their farm stand. On State Highway 9 south of Morris, a pleasant looking scarecrow, with a pumpkin at its feet, holds a pumpkin sales sign about a mile away from the farm.

It's a busy spot as people pick their perfect pumpkin for display or to use in pies.