What started out as a friendly competition between brothers has turned into a business that helps fund the pursuit for higher education.
“Back when my dad and his brothers were growing up, they had contests to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin,” Mitch Negangard said. “There were a couple neighbors who could come by and they’d give them away or sell them.
“That started to fizzle out. But my Uncle Larry’s oldest, who is 34 or 35 now, used the pumpkin patch as a fundraiser to go to college.”
Mitch and his brother, Kyle, helped in the pumpkin patch as children, then took over the operation to help support their way through college.
“My brother is a year and a half older, and he is still using the pumpkin patch as a college fund as he goes through grad school,” Mitch said.
Kyle currently lives in Chicago while Mitch is enjoying his second season on the family farm after graduating from college in 2017.
“We collaborate on decisions,” Mitch said. “He’s still helping out all the way in Chicago. If I have a question, I’ll give him a call.”
Working with family is something the Negangards enjoy.
“It’s really nice when you have such a good group of family to work with,” Mitch said. “My dad has four brothers and they come out and help. All my cousins and aunts and uncles are out here at that time. It’s a good reason for everyone to get back together and hang out.
“They are probably the hardest working people we can get out here. All my uncles and cousins go 100 miles an hour. They know exactly what to do and they work hard.”
But the main attraction for the young workers is often the homemade food.
“I have an uncle who is a really good cook,” Mitch said. “We have kids who come out to help, and he’s always the main attraction.”
Working on the farm is generational for the Negangards. Alongside the pumpkin crops, they also manage corn and soybean fields.
“I’m still learning a lot from my dad and grandpa,” Mitch said.
The process of growing, watching and problem solving are something that Mitch enjoys doing day-in and day-out.
“You start from scratch with the seed, you watch it grow through all the phases; it’s starts out with such a small plant, and then it takes over.
“I like the satisfaction of growing something, watching it through the whole process and then taking it to the market.”
And whether it’s watching for bugs, spraying the crop or figuring out how to bring the crop back from hail, rain or wind damage, Mitch enjoys the fact that from year-to-year nothing is ever the same.
One thing that has become a constant at the Negangard’s farm, though, are the droves of people who drive to rural Philo to get their fall pumpkins.
“It’s really fun to see people come out. Kids are smiling, laughing, having a good time, running around,” he said. “We’re just fortunate to have so many great people come out and support us year after year.”
As Negangard’s Pumpkin Patch grows, so do unexpected, pleasant surprises.
Last fall, a man called and arranged to surprise his girlfriend with a proposal at the patch.
“We never imagined we would get to the point where we’d have a proposal,” Mitch said.
The Negangards plan to open their patch on Sept. 22 for the 2018 season. Mitch said growing conditions for the crop were excellent this year.
“It’s been a pretty good crop,” Mitch said. “We got them planted a little earlier than we normally do. So they matured very early. They’ve been ready on the vine for a week or so. They have really good color, and it seems like the plants are putting on a lot of pumpkins. Our big ones are bigger than they were last year.
“The plants are really healthy. They’re early, but they are maintaining their health on the plant. The vines are still reaching out and there are still more and more pumpkins being put on.”
Pumpkins, gourds and squash will be available for customers until Halloween or until the supply runs out. They also have Indian corn and bales of straw available.