This is the first part of a weekly series that will look at food news in Northeast Indiana. It’s called NorthEATS Indiana. And from the farms of Whitley County, to the kitchens of Fort Wayne, to Huntington County’s restaurants, we’ll be looking at news you can sink your teeth into.
This week, we start with a fall favorite: pumpkins. October is usually the time to harvest the gourd, but many farmers have a smaller crop or no pumpkins at all.
This year’s record rainfall affected farmers and pumpkins in the region.
Farmer Marah Steele teaches students about agriculture, specifically one of the crops on her farm-- pumpkins.
She and her husband Chris Steele are the fifth generation to work on the family farm.
Steele Farms in Decatur usually has a corn maze and pumpkin patch open to the public, but this year, things didn’t turn out as planned.
“This summer we had so much rain, we tried to grow our pumpkins, but we could not because it was way too wet,” she said to a group of first-grade students on a field trip.
This year, the pumpkins in the pumpkin patch weren’t grown on their property. The heavy rains this summer completely flooded the field.
“We actually had to buy all of our pumpkins because they all flooded out,” said Chris Steele.
He says they had to buy pumpkins from a farm near Muncie, which wasn’t as affected by flooding.
“Took quite a toll on our crops. Even our commercial corn and soybean acres are really damaged this year,” he said.
There was so much rain, he almost couldn’t plant any corn.
“We planted our corn maze three times, which is not fun,” Steele said. “It’s very stressful, but the good Lord provided a third time—a third chance, I guess, and we have corn that’s plenty tall enough now to walk through for the maze.”
He said if the corn hadn’t grown, they might not have opened to the public this year.
Chris Steele drives out to the pumpkin patch, but instead of being filled with green vines and big orange gourds, it’s about three acres of dirt that’s bare and cracked, like a dry lake bed.
He says he and his family have never had a year like it that they can remember.
“This summer was unlike any others,” Steele said. “In fact, if you talk to a lot of guys who have been farming 60 years they’ve even said they’ve never seen a summer like this.”
And they’re right. Fort Wayne experienced its wettest summer in recorded history, according to the National Weather Service. The more than 21 inches that fell in the area from June to August surpasses not just every summer, but very season, since they started recording rainfall in 1912.
Steele Farms is not the only farm in Northeast Indiana that’s had trouble.
“Every farm at the farmer’s market has said the same thing. They just got not very many. They got a few pumpkins but not very many,” said Sarah Smith of Wholesome Meadows Farm.
She and her husband Josh quit their full-time jobs in Fort Wayne to be farmers in Huntington. They planted seven and a half acres of pumpkins, but only harvested about one acre.
That equals about 500 pumpkins, which was only enough to fill half of an order. Josh says luckily they have other crops to rely on for money.
Phil Foster, who runs Phil’s U-Pick in Huntington, says the weather hurt his crop as well.
“I’d prefer to have a little more mature patch, you know be farther along, but it is what it is this year,” Foster said. “So in that way the weather hurt us really bad.”
He had to replant his pumpkin patch, and many of his pumpkins aren’t ready to be picked. The you-pick part of the patch is opening to the public later than he expected.
Foster has grown pumpkins for 43 years. He’s half-retired, but continues his two acres of pumpkins for extra income and because he enjoys growing the gourds.
“I like to grow pumpkins, so that’s what I do,” he said.
Despite the loss for individual farmers, pumpkin fanatics shouldn’t worry. Consumers won’t notice much of a difference when they buy pumpkins, says a Purdue plant pathologist. The price won’t be much different, and the abundance of pumpkin-flavored foods isn’t going anywhere this fall.