September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It started with (my kids) Caitlin and Tony just doing it for fun, growing a couple packets. Now it's grown to be a lot more," she said.
Kasper grows nearly five acres of pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn on her family's dairy farm near Owatonna, Minn., where she and her husband, Pete, and son, Tony, milk 280 cows. Daughters, Caitlin and Stephanie, live away from the farm working in the agricultural industry and going to college.
"Pumpkins aren't our first priority, but they're fun to grow," Kasper said.
The Kaspers sell their pumpkins and gourds at a roadside stand along with bundles of corn stalks and straw bales. Kasper also uses these harvest items for a home/business decorating service.
Kasper started growing pumpkins about 20 years ago. The family would pick about a truck full of pumpkins, which mostly went to family and friends. It grew so much in the next five years that the Kaspers turned it into a small side business for their dairy.
For several years, they attended a local farmers market but realized they had enough business through word of mouth. People would stop out to the farm for their harvest decorations and sometimes even scheduled tours of the patch.
The business grew when Caitlin and Stephanie incorporated more unique variety items into the business as a part of their FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project. Both daughters along with Tony and Pete are vital parts of making the business thrive as they help with planting, weeding, harvest and decorating.
"It's rewarding to work in this business with my kids," Kasper said.
Both Caitlin and Stephanie received state recognition as Star Farmer and Star in Agribusiness.
The business also grew when the Kaspers started taking complete decoration set ups - pumpkins, corn stalks, straw bales and gourds - to homes and businesses.
"We knew there was a need. People wanted outside fall decorations but didn't have a way to get it because they didn't want to put it in their vehicle or didn't know how to get rid of it when they were done. We thought we would offer delivery service, decorating and cleanup," Kasper said.
Kasper, with help from her family, built up a client base, which now includes close to 60 places she decorates. The list includes restaurants such as Famous Dave's and Timberlodge Steak House, nursing homes, dental offices, private residences and the local country club.
At the end of August, the Kaspers usually call customers to make sure they are interested in decorations and to know what they will need for inventory. During the decoration season, Kasper will call on two other pumpkin growing friends to swap decorations in case she does not have enough of a certain item.
During the past 15 years, the Kaspers have sold their pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks and straw bales at a roadside stand on a friends farmstead.
"It was getting so busy (with tractors and semis) here on the farm all the time. It got concerning with all the people stopping in. I wanted to make sure their kids weren't getting close to everything going on here," Kasper said.
The stand has an Amish buggy with a ghost riding in it. The neighbor's farm also has a donkey and fainting goats to take pictures of or to watch.
"I always wanted to do a corn maze and some sort of entertainment for people to come to the farm," Kasper said.
But the work on their family's dairy has trumped that idea.
"The home and business decorating makes up for it," Kasper said.
Most years, Kasper will sell out of the nearly 5,000 pumpkins that grow in her patch; however, the years that she has leftovers, she delivers them for free to local nonprofits.
"Putting them out on the field (without being used) seems selfish. Someone could enjoy them," Kasper said.
Kasper wants them to be used after the work put into raising them. Planting usually happens about mid-May since a lot of her items are 90-day varieties while a lot of the small decorations are 120-day varieties.
Weeds are the biggest challenge with growing pumpkins, Kasper said.
"There aren't many weed killers that can take care of them," Kasper said. "We do a lot of hand weeding and that's about all we can do."
Squash beetles are also a concern.
"We have to rotate the field every year because the beetles embed into the soil and stay there. If we don't rotate, we'll have pest issues right away early in the season," Kasper said.
Harvest begins immediately after the Minnesota State Fair.
"It's a lot of manual labor," Kasper said.
Everything is hand picked, washed with hot soapy water, then taken to the roadside stand to sell or the farm to prepare for decorating.
Kasper visits homes and businesses to decorate from about mid-September through the first week in October. This year, the decorating started a little later.
"It was a lot warmer this year and people didn't want to get rid of their flowers yet. The weather is the biggest determining factor," she said.
After the season, Kasper will collect the pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks and straw to bring back to the farm. Most of it will be spread on fields to be recycled.
Although the Kaspers make about an average of $5,000 per year from their pumpkin patch and decorating, she keeps prices low and affordable for people.
"I guess it's the farmer in me. I would feel bad for gouging people. I want others to have fun, enjoy the season and not have to pay big prices," she said.
For Kasper, it's not about the money. It's about the enjoyment of growing pumpkins for the fall harvest season.
"I have fun seeing other people enjoy them. I'm not doing it to get rich. I'm doing it because I have fun and I know others have fun because of it, too," she said.[[In-content Ad]]
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