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Pumpkin Picking with a Pro
Halloween is fast approaching and the shops are all a glow with bright orange pumpkins. But did you ever wonder where they all come from? Step forward Noel Hayes, who has been growing Irish pumpkins for the last 16 years. We caught up with him on his 70-acre farm in Wexford to get a glimpse into what’s involved. “It’s a busy time.” he laughs, “We’re supplying at least 400,000 pumpkins this month - It’s the busiest time of the year.”
Across the year, they grow about three different varieties of pumpkin. But the Harvest Moon variety, with its bright orange colour and large round shape, is a firm Irish favourite. Noel explains, “We sow very little of the other ones. It’s the main seller for its shape and size.” Perhaps it’s because it lends itself so well to being carved which tends to be how we use them. “The Irish mainly use the pumpkin purely for cosmetic reasons,” he notes.
Carving a Niche
The tradition of making a jack-o'-lantern at Halloween is believed to have its origins in 19th century Ireland. It’s said that faces were carved into turnips and lit from within using a candle as part of the Halloween festivities. When Irish settlers arrived in America, the pumpkin took the place of the turnip for its easy to carve qualities. “As far as I’m aware Irish people don’t really use them much for cooking or making pies or anything,” Noel says. “We don’t have the same relationship with a pumpkin as Americans do. Nobody wants to see or hear tell of a pumpkin really after Halloween.”
When pumpkins aren’t in season, Noel farms other vegetables ranging from potatoes to the humble carrot. In fact, as one of Irelands largest producers of carrots, chances are his produce has ended up on your plate.
Expanding the Business
Over the years, Noel has expanded the farm to include a washing and packing facility. He explains, “Often farming practices are not that profitable, so I met with some other people and we decided to set up a packing company. And it grew from there.” It certainly did as the facility now washes and packs an average of 40 tonnes of carrots a day. It was a case of spotting an opportunity to add value and running with it. Noel thinks that a good relationship with the bank is key. “It’s very important to have a good relationship with your bank. It’s the mainstay of any business. We have a good relationship with our local bank, although we don’t have any borrowings at the moment.”
The Farming Landscape
Noel acknowledges that it’s a tough time for the farming community, “Farming in general is in a depressed state at the moment. Grain, livestock and milk are under wicked pressure,” he says. The uncertainty of Brexit is also a concern. He said: “Nobody seems to be able to give a straight answer as to what kind of an effect Brexit will have. Everyone has different thoughts.”
But despite the pressures, Noel is still passionate about his profession. “Farming was something I always wanted to do from a young age. It’s a nice way of life really. You’re out in the fresh air, you’re dealing with land and you’re dealing with nature.”
Looking to the Future
As for the future of his farm, Noel is planning on sticking to his current formula and hopes to expand his reach. “Hopefully we’ll gain a bit more in the marketplace with regards to selling vegetables. We’ll just keep it to the carrot and potatoes.”
Noel carves a couple of pumpkins each year to decorate the pillars on his gate – a tradition he’ll continue this year. We couldn’t let him go without getting his top carving tips. For him it’s simple. “You get stickers in the shops and place that over and trace it out.” he laughs.
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