Pam Driscoll, whose birthday happens to fall on Halloween, loves pumpkins. She loves them so much that she dreamed about a pumpkin patch on the front lawn of her church, Epiphany Parish in Walpole.
She told people at church abouther dream. “Our parish decided that they would like to support this vision of having this happy place for the community to come to,” she said.
And so, for seven years now, just as the leaves begin their bright turn toward autumn, a couple of truckloads of pumpkins arrive at little Epiphany Parish in Walpole and, for the month of October, the place transforms into a great pumpkin patch.
It turns out that a lot of other people love pumpkins, too. There have been birthday parties in Epiphany’s pumpkin patch, and brides have been photographed there. One family stopped by on the way home from the hospital with a newborn baby.
“The pumpkin patch is a bit like a local coffee shop,” Driscoll said. “The community has shared all kinds of stories, both inspirational and heartbreaking, while there. Children run freely, so excited to find their perfect pumpkin. We have gotten so much more out of the pumpkin patch than we ever intended. There’s something magical about being amidst thousands of pumpkins in such a beautiful, serene space. It’s unexpectedly therapeutic.”
The pumpkins come from an organization that consigns them solely to nonprofits. They are harvested in New Mexico on a Navajo reservation, and each participating nonprofit, mostly churches, Driscoll said, sends aportion of its proceeds back to the reservation where the money is used for education, job training and basic necessities. Last year, Epiphany—which sells the pumpkins by size, with prices ranging from $1 up to $25 for the great big ones—sent about $12,000 back to the reservation.
Leftover pumpkins get donated to local organizations. Last year those included a food pantry in Attleboro, a farm in Norton that cares for abused animals and the Norfolk County Agricultural School.
By all accounts, the money part of the patch is secondary to the encounters that spring up in the midst of the pumpkins.
“We have all sorts of people, driving by, jumping out of their cars and taking pictures, and a good number end up purchasing pumpkins,” Epiphany’s rector, the Rev. Alan Hesse, said. “The most touching are those that stop by to take pumpkins to a homebound neighbor or others that aren’t able to come and enjoy the social aspect of the pumpkin patch. I am always given a moment to pause when parishioners or townfolk come to get a pumpkin to take to the cemetery for a loved one,” he said.
Some people, both he and Driscoll said, even find their way into parish life through the pumpkin patch.
“We have had quite a few people comment on how quaint and inviting our church looks and many ask to see inside. We have had people join our congregation via the pumpkins, either through becoming a parishioner or other ways, like singing in the choir or volunteering in the pumpkin patch,” Driscoll said.
“It is a wonderful way for seekers to be part of the church, without too deep of a commitment at first. They get to know a little more about us and our community,” Hesse said. And, he said, it gives parishioners a meaningful volunteer opportunity. “Families tend the patch together, retired men bring a book and a smile and sit there during the day and groups of children and teenagers sell and play as adults monitor the goings-on.”
“All emotions are present in the patch, the same as church,” Hesse said.
Epiphany Parish is located at 62 Front Street on the Walpole Common, and the pumpkin patch is open every day, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., until Halloween.
--Tracy J. Sukraw