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Alachua ‒ For the past 20 years, the First United Methodist Church has been selling pumpkins during October at a field fronting U.S. Highway 441 on the west side of Alachua. Various pumpkins of all sizes and colors are arranged in artful displays, which also include activity areas, mainly directed towards children's activities. It has become a tradition for many families to celebrate the Halloween season.

But this year, there was a question of whether there would be a pumpkin patch due to the pandemic. Pastor Augie Allen, became the new pastor at the church in July. One of the first decisions he made was whether to hold the annual event. “We discussed whether we could safely do this and follow the CDC guidelines,” Allen said. “We felt we could safely do it since the pumpkin patch and the children's activities were all held outdoors and could be spaced far enough apart for social distancing.”

This year’s pumpkin patch once again featured the maze, hayrides, bean bag toss and a photo area. Missing from the annual affair is the fall fest event, which was cancelled due to crowd size and limitations on food.

Each year the church sells around 20,000 pumpkins ranging from 50 cents to $26, as well as homemade pumpkin bread. Setting all this up is a group effort for the church with everyone pitching in on unloading, making displays or manning the pumpkin patch. Twice a week, the youths in the church come out and “roll” each pumpkin so it does not go bad from sitting on the same side.

The pumpkins come from the Navajo tribes in New Mexico where the climate is ideal for growing large pumpkins. A commercial business working with the tribes imports the pumpkins to various churches and stores. The churches keep 40 percent of the profits and the tribe gets 60 percent. The First United Methodist Church uses profits to fund mission work for up to 40 members to go to various low-income areas in the Appalachians every year to help rebuild houses in need of major repairs the owner can’t afford. They also use the money to fund a camp for the deaf, mainly children, in the Dominican Republic.

“I have four kids of my own, and I know how hard this lockdown time has been for families,” said Allen. “We felt we needed to give them some place and activity to do outside the house that feels normal.”

There was concern that attendance would be down due to worries over the spread of the coronavirus, but just the opposite happened. “First half of the month was the busiest we have ever had. I guess it just goes to prove that people really want to have a sense of normalcy with traditional activities,” said Allen.

The pumpkin patch has become a familiar fall pastime as generations of families continue to enjoy the thousands of pumpkins and activities offered by the church.

“The Pumpkin Patch has a history in this city and for some people it is an annual event. We had a couple that came last year while the wife was pregnant,” said Allen. “They took a photo to commemorate the birth of their child and she delivered the next day. They came back this week with their baby to commemorate the first birthday of their child.”

Allen reports that both attendance and sales are up this year and they expect to sell out.

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