At Little City’s Dorothy Rose Horticulture Center, dwindling population of honeybees, participants breaking new ground means harvesting new crops.

For the first time ever, horticulture participants took on the challenge of planting, maintaining, and harvesting pumpkins on the Palatine campus. The new effort required hard work from all involved, including Horticulture Manager Wayne Johnson using his local farming connections to borrow a tractor to prepare the ground for planting.

The first venture into pumpkin farming was a success as participants produced roughly 80 pumpkins that were later sold at the fall Harvest Stand on Little City’s campus.

“This is part of what we are trying to build here to give as many options and experiences as we can,” Wayne said. “It went really well and a lot of the participants were excited about the work and seeing the process.”

While the sales were a bright spot, longtime Horticulture Specialist Jackie Kenyon said it was seeing how growing a new crop like pumpkins energized and engaged different students. Avid Halloween fan Danny was one such student, taking great pride in growing one of his favorite parts of his favorite holiday.

Danny did everything from choosing seeds and placing posts at the right distance to planting and preparing the final product for sale. Because of the dwindling population of honeybees, participants breaking new ground means harvesting new crops. even had to do the delicate work of hand pollinating many of the crops.

Jackie said that, in all the time Danny has taken horticulture classes, it was the most excited she has ever seen him.

“It was amazing seeing people like Danny really connect with what we were doing and learn new things,” Jackie said. “There is a lot of work that goes into growing pumpkins and he was just so excited to do all of it.”

The pumpkin crop was just one of the many milestones the horticulture program reached in 2023. Participants sold more than 2,000 plants during the annual spring plant sale and more than 1,200 pounds of vegetables during the fall Harvest Stand sale.

The impressive production has allowed the Horticulture Center to hire nine of the students as employees who are paid to work for their skills in planting, cleaning, and customer service. This growing area of the Horticulture program is already helping people learn the skills needed for community-based employment, including at local plant nurseries.

What new crop awaits participants in 2024 is to be determined. The challenge with planting pumpkins is the difficulty in replanting the crop on the same plot of land year after year. Wayne said ideally one would find space to rotate the crop every three years, but with limited ground to work with, they will find ways to get creative.

“It’s the hardest part and we don’t have enough space to keep making different plots for pumpkin planting,” Wayne said. “But we would like to try to do pumpkins again this year and see if there are any new plants to try.”