Farmer keeps pumpkin spirit alive

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 1999

The Great Pumpkin has been spotted in Natchez … in the form of Ross McGehee.

When the farmer’s pumpkin patch fell victim to hungry deer this year, McGehee vowed his young patrons would still have pumpkins to pick.

&uot;So I went across the street to Wal-Mart and bought ’em,&uot; McGehee said with a laugh. &uot;Then&160;I had to put them all out.&uot;

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It’s a routine he has repeated often this year. McGehee’s pumpkin patch – located off Seargent S. Prentiss Drive near Natchez High School – is a favorite field trip destination for schools and daycare centers during the Halloween season.

And in the nearly four years he’s been planting pumpkins, this is the first season McGehee said he lost his crop.

&uot;There’s the drought and the deer,&uot;&160;he said, explaining that the deer factor has steadily increased as the animals recognized the field’s continuity.

&uot;It’s like when you go to Kroger,&uot; McGehee.&160;&uot;About the third time you go there, you don’t need directions any more. Well, they all know how to get here.&uot;

McGehee began planting pumpkins on the two-acre plot after hearing Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell talk about the benefits of a pumpkin patch.

He uses the patch as both a reward for children and an opportunity to teach them about farming.

&uot;I tell them where food comes from and why we really have a farm,&uot; McGehee said before beginning his lesson with a group of 80 preschool and kindergarten students early Wednesday.

Amid questions like &uot;does anybody wear underwear?&uot; and &uot;does anybody like Jell-O?,&uot; McGehee helped the students relate the everyday objects in their lives to farm products – from the cotton grown in fields to the field corn that feeds pigs and cows.

And, of course, he explains about pumpkins.

&uot;Before there was Halloween, the Indians used to grow pumpkins,&uot; he told the group, explaining that pumpkins are for eating as much as for making jack-o-lanterns.

And, of course, they’re for &uot;picking.&uot;

&uot;There’s only one rule,&uot; McGehee warned the children.&160;&uot;Once you pick out your pumpkin, you’ve got to get it back here yourself. I don’t care if your carry it or roll it … you just have to do it by yourself.&uot;