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Fertile grounds for American identity


September 18, 2013
When local children partake in a local tradition on Sept. 25, their efforts will involve more than securing the ideal pumpkin.

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Pumpkins represent romantic notions of American identity according to a leading expert. Photo by Kim Harris/ Valley Roadrunner
Since 1963, Bates Nut Farm has supplied the local community with pumpkins for autumn festivities. In the five decades since, an event has evolved, reflecting community ideals as much as gastronomic necessities.

Today the pumpkin patch at the 100-acre farm is the center of an annual extravaganza featuring numerous activities related to the rural lifestyle with an opening day festival slated for Sept. 28.

The loyal clientele prove the ongoing appeal of hayrides, wheelbarrows, pony rides and will even provide various scents from livestock, according to Sherrie Ness, a fourth-generation member of the Bates family who own s and operates the farm with her husband Tom.

"You will see Grandma and Grandpa, their children (who) they brought to Bates and now their grandchildren," she said in an email. " It is the family experience, the sights, the drive, the anticipation, the smells of farm animals, the food, nuts and candies purchased that bring people out to experience the pumpkin patch. 

However, a certain phenomenon stems from the pumpkin vine and its ongoing role within local communities across the country.

While the squash is an important part of Halloween and Thanksgiving, sales plummet outside the holiday season by as much as 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Unlike most people around the world who eat the vegetable unceremoniously through the year, (Americans) eat it hardly all at except at the national Thanksgiving holiday," says Cindy Ott, an expert on the role of pumpkins within American culture and an assistant professor at St. Louis University.

The pumpkin embodies "romantic agrarian myths" used in creating the American identity. Nonetheless, traditions such as going to the pumpkin patch are making a noticeable impact outside of the cultural sphere.

"The pumpkin is actually helping to revitalize the very thing it has long symbolized — the small family farm," she adds.

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