Pumpkin Power; and the importance of agricultural education

By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer


In a society where people are becoming increasingly detached from the agricultural way of life, never has public education been more important, says Judy Kolk, owner of Kayben Farms in Okotoks.

“About 50 years ago probably half the population had some kind of agricultural connection, and some kind of basic grasp or understanding and connection to someone who was growing food,” she says. “That number has dropped so dramatically, there are people who have never seen food growing. And have only seen food once it is sanitized, and packaged and put into a grocery store. They are sometimes completely unaware how things like weather, pests and disease can effect a crop.”

In 2009 Kayben Farms converted their garden centre into an educational greenhouse specializing in year-round “Things You Grow and Eat” tours for local schools in the Calgary area. That same year they began their first fall Pumpkin Discovery Tour. It has been their most popular program ever since; with about 1,000-2,000 students passing through annually.

“Our idea is to get them to touch things, and really get a hands on experience,” says Kolk. “We walk them through three different stations on our “Things You Grow and Eat” pumpkin tour. So we start out showing them a pumpkin seed, and then we usually have some pumpkin plants that have been recently started so they can see what that looks like. And then we have a small pumpkin patch right inside our greenhouse so it doesn’t die when we get a hard frost.

“So they can see sort of a progression of a pumpkin plant. We tell them we planted these plants at about the time you finished school last year, and it took all this time, all summer long, to grow.”

Pumpkins have long been a fall staple in North American diets, and Kolk definitely understands why. She has become an even bigger fan of the nutritional side of the fruit since starting the Pumpkin Discovery Tour.

“One of the things people find interesting about them is they last so long. That’s probably one of the reasons they were grown so extensively many years ago when there wasn’t a lot of refrigeration. They are very high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K, which is wonderful because back in those days it wasn’t necessarily easy for people to get that kind of nutrition. You can prepare them in so many different kinds of ways that once they were looked on much as potatoes were in peoples’ diets.

“We used to think of pumpkin pie, right?” continues Kolk. “Now we’ve got pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkins as a savoury dish are great too. You know, a pumpkin salad prepared with salt, pepper, butter and garlic— that’s kind of all you need. There are so many things we eat that are processed, but truthfully there is lots of food like pumpkins that are completely unprocessed and convenient to use. When I tell the kids on a school tour they can cut a pumpkin in half, take out the seeds and place it face down on a cookie sheet and cook it for half an hour, it’s the parents’ eyes that light up. And of course its completely gluten free, which is so 2016.”

But for the kids, admits Kolk, nutritional merit isn’t high on their list when it comes to their favourite things about pumpkins.

“The kids like all the different shapes. They love how some of them are really big and heavy. Some of them really like touching the seeds when I cut them open and they are all gooey inside and you have to pull them out. They also get to take home a small sugar pumpkin and paint it. They love doing that too.”

Kolk says whatever the kids might like about the pumpkins, she is happy to offer them a hands on education experience to help them connect their food to the farm.

“I think it is so cool that when you cut open the pumpkin and see all the seeds, that’s all the information you need, even in one seed, to grow a whole new pumpkin plant. That’s way cooler than a microchip.”