Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

September 28, 2011

Pumpkins aplenty: McCarty hilltop farm in Boyd celebrates fall's favorite fruit

CANNONSBURG — With weather wiping out this year’s pumpkin crops in other places, they’ve done just fine on Lloyd and Beth McCarty’s hilltop farm in Boyd County.

“Wholesale prices went from averaging 20 cents a pound to 60 cents a pound. They’re begging for them,” McCarty said, explaining growers in Indiana suffered an extremely dry season while pumpkin patches in the Northeast were literally soaked.

“And I’ve been fortunate again this year,” he continued, humbly reporting he grew some genuine whoppers subject to Internet reports for those who will go to great lengths for the perfect autumn accent.

“They come from all over. It’s a big market. We sent one to Columbus, one to Lexington and one to Pikeville that I can think of. They know you’ve got it because they Google it. That kind of surprised me.”

Among the many varieties of pumpkins and squashes McCarty tends, he seems to smile most when he talks about his success with the class of pumpkins known as “giants,” which he cultivates in orange, white and blue.

“I got about 60 of the Orange Giants and probably 320 pounds was the biggest. The Giant Whites ... I got about 20 and the biggest was right at 150 pounds. Probably 110 pounds was the biggest on the Giant Blue,” he said, explaining the giant varieties aren’t grown purely for the premium price, but also for pride. “It’s not necessarily the price. It’s being able to grow them. I’m now consistent with it. Next year, we’re probably going to go for about 500 of those.”

A true family farm, McCarty’s Greenhouse & Pumpkin Farm relies upon long hours and dedicated efforts of the McCartys, Mrs. McCarty’s sister, Jimmie Lee Blanton, McCarty’s sister, Kristy McCarty, and her fiancé, Kevin Felty.

“And we could not have made this happen without the help of Kevin Felty,” Mrs. McCarty emphasized before adding the man sitting on the porch swing, Jim Fields, drives the tractor and performs any other task asked of him. Stories of long days consumed by back-breaking chores with short spells of sleep before it all started over again aren’t uncommon in this crowd — including a recent day when Mrs. McCarty’s sister was too tired to talk, something they laugh and say they’d never experienced.

They started four years ago with hoes, buckets and hillsides others said were too steep for growing round produce. Investing literally everything they’ve made along the way back into the operation, they now have a nice tractor, trailers, tillers, sprayers, a massive new greenhouse that already “must be” expanded by 30 feet and the prospect of breaking even. And you’ll find at least one or two of them ready to help between 9:30 a.m. and “dark ... sometimes after dark,” seven days a week.

Along with the bounty of seven acres worth of pumpkin, squash and gourd vines, the McCarty operation produced 6,000 mums in 14 colors this year, under the hand-worked supervision of Mrs. McCarty and Blanton, who estimate they have about 1,000 remaining, including many in their favorite shade of burnt orange. They’ve added Christmas poinsettias to their operation this year (asking for any orders by no later than Nov. 2). And, in McCarty fashion, they’re looking to make the hilltop farm even bigger next season.

“Next year, we’re shooting for 16 acres,” McCarty said confidently before he and his wife began discussing the different virtues of some of their pumpkins and squashes.

“Cheese pumpkins are good for New York cheesecake and cushaws are good for pies,” Mrs. McCarty said, leading to a conversation about their Cinderella pumpkins, which are the same type used exclusively by Libby for its canned pumpkin pie filling.

While they have certainly done their own research, Mrs. McCarty said much of the best pumpkin and squash information she passes along came from “older women who came around here and told me about it.”

Mrs. McCarty advises the easiest way to find their farm (from Ashland) is to get on U.S. 60 and turn left at the red light past the Walmart in Cannonsburg, go straight through the four-way stop past the Cannonsburg Volunteer Fire Department and go uphill for approximately three miles.

For more information, call (606) 465-3079.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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