News

Pumpkin farm labour of love

Laura Barton

By Laura Barton, Tribune Staff

Mary Hilbing, owner of Hilbing’s Pumpkin Patch, smiles and looks on as her granddaughter Mackenzie Hilbing, 2, sits among the pumpkins on her farm. Laura Barton/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

Mary Hilbing, owner of Hilbing’s Pumpkin Patch, smiles and looks on as her granddaughter Mackenzie Hilbing, 2, sits among the pumpkins on her farm. Laura Barton/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

If you were to stop in at Hilbing’s Pumpkin Patch, you’d learn about all the different kinds of pumpkins and gourds there.

Mary Hilbing, owner of the Wainfleet pumpkin patch, has been in the business for about 25 years and has gained a pretty extensive knowledge about all that she grows.

She said it’s a lot of hard work, but she really enjoys all of it.

“I love to watch and see things grow,” she said. “I like the idea of dealing with the people and selling.”

She didn’t start as a pumpkin farmer though. Hilbing said that concept started out as her son’s idea after they had visited Howell’s Pumpkin Farm one year in Thorold. He was just 12 at the time, but with his eagerness, the family took on the challenge of converting their land for pumpkins.

“It was really, really fertile ground because it had never been worked for years. So the first year we had six-foot high sweet corn, but we’ve been growing pumpkins ever since,” she said. “But it was Joe who said, ‘Mom, we can do it, we can do it.’”

When he hit his mid-teens, she said, his interests shifted and so she and her husband took on the workload from there.

Her children and now her grandchildren, too, still help out with the property when they can, but it’s mostly what she calls a “grandma and grandpa operation.”

“It used to be that (the family) helped a bit more, but now their families are getting more demanding, the kids are into more things and they don’t have spare time. So it changes. Mostly I do it myself.”

Around this time of October, she said, people come looking for decorative pieces, such as corn, gourds or smaller pumpkins. They’re also interested in getting pumpkins and squash for baking. It’s later in the month when people will be looking for carving pumpkins.

She has many stories to tell of the people she’s met over the years, some of locals and some of people passing through.

Her stories are full of details about father-daughter duos coming and picking out a pumpkin in the field before it was even ready to go, residents from old age homes coming for a day trip and getting to take home a small gourd, and even one story about a trucker from Mississauga who would come year after year.

“He stopped out here with a great big transport truck, you know, big high cabs. Years ago, this was maybe 15 years ago,” she said.

She remembers him picking out the biggest pumpkins and her helping him hoist them up into his cab, almost above their heads.

“I’m thinking this must be funny when he’s driving back to Toronto with this big pumpkin sitting on his seat beside him.”

The good customers are a big part of it for her, and she even has a photo album of pictures she’s taken of people who have stopped by over the years.

Despite the drier summer this year, she said the pumpkins and gourds have done really well. As soon as the rain came in August, she said everything just “exploded.”

She also sells at both the Welland and Port Colborne farmers’ markets and said she enjoys meeting people there, too.

lbarton@postmedia.com