All in one weekend of May 1982, Donald and Margaret moved off the farm and Bruce and Judy moved in. While the next Vesperman generation put down their roots at the farm, Donald and Margaret settled into a house on Madison Street, the same one Kyle's cousin Eric lives in today. And for a few years all was pretty quiet at that house.
But in the late 80's, the front yard became a small market from September through Halloween. And this little farmer's market had one product: pumpkins.
Beginning in the early 80's, Bruce and Judy diversified their farming operation, raising more vegetables and selling them into smaller markets. As part of their diversification, they started a pumpkin patch and began looking for ways to sell pumpkins to people for carving, cooking, and decoration. The decision to sell pumpkins at Donald and Margaret's house in town came down to the old tried and true real estate maxim: Location, location, location. The visibility of the Madison street house made it a great location for a local market...and they knew the people living there.
The house, with its wrap-around porch and good-sized front yard, could hold a lot of pumpkins, and it filled up quickly. In those days, the family worked on the honor system. They would load up wagon after wagon of pumpkins, drive into town, and just cover the front porch and yard with orange bulbs. Sometimes they would put a "Pumpkins for Sale" sign up...sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes they would staff the yard...sometimes they wouldn't. "Really, it was usually just an old metal coffee can with a hole in the lid," Kyle says. "People would pick up their pumpkins, leave their money, and that was kind of the whole operation." In that sea of pumpkins, the Vesperman family found something really special, something that seems to only exist in small towns: a unique event; a trust between buyer and seller; and a fun, special experience for many local (and sometimes not so local) families.
One thing that was pretty constant (besides all the pumpkins) was the presence of Kyle's grandparents, who thoroughly enjoyed pumpkin season. Donald especially found joy in porch sittin' - on crisp, sunny afternoons you could usually find him in his chair, chatting with the families that stopped by, thanking everyone for their business, and wishing them all a happy fall. And when it got to the final few days before Halloween, you could bet he'd throw in an extra pumpkin or two for ya, no charge.
When Bruce quit farming in 1995, Kyle, then in high school, still had an interest in raising crops, and he mainly focused on sweet corn and pumpkins. Even though back in those days he was busy with school and football practice, a lot of his fall weekends were spent picking pumpkins and taking them up to the house. "Sometimes I'd take up two or three wagonfuls, and in between loads I could tell people had been there. I'd be putting more pumpkins on bare spots that just an hour ago were full," he remembers.
After graduating and going to college, Kyle found a little more time in his schedule, and that's when his ideas for the pumpkins and for the fall season really began to take off. In 2002, he kept the pumpkins in the patch and invited families to come out to the farm to pick their own, marking the first official fall season and beginning a new chapter in the farm's history.
In many ways, though, Kyle's approach to his projects has remained the same. He still operates the fall season very similarly to the way he operated his small pumpkin market as a 14-year old: with some background and knowledge in the area, a lot of hard work and time, a (sort of) clear vision, and a lot of energy, he continues to create and share experiences that have the same magic of that little pumpkin operation. And even though it's on a much bigger scale now, 15 years later, the fall season at its heart is all about building relationships, spending time with family, and throwing in that extra pumpkin.
This story is part of 15 Year Features series to celebrate 15 years of Vesperman Farms' fall season. If you'd like to read more, click on the "15 Year Features" category!