The Great Pumpkin Patch

Join Mac Condill as he reflects on how his business grew to offer over 400 varieties of pumpkin and entertain over 50,000 guests each fall.

| Fall 2013

Illinois, the heart of the Midwest, is home to the most diverse pumpkin patch in the world. The Prairie  State stakes claim to being the top pumpkin producing state in the country. With its hot, dry summers, it’s the perfect place for growing pumpkins. The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur brings visitors from far and wide to this little town. Owner Mac Condill grows 400 varieties of pumpkins on the farm that has been in his family for more than 150 years. He likes to say that his farm is the original “Old McDonald’s Farm.” Mac’s ancestors, named McDonald, were immigrants from Scotland in the 1850s. After a history of growing various grains, row crops, and livestock on the farm, the Condill family now focuses on growing cucurbits.

Mac explains that he has always grown pumpkins on the farm but became really interested in them when he was 12 years old. In the mid 1980s, when it became more difficult to make a living with traditional farming, Condill's family turned their focus to growing pumpkins. He has channeled that love of pumpkins into a profitable business that includes The Great Pumpkin Patch which hosts more than 50,000 visitors each fall, a popular bakery, and a growing seed business.

Cucurbit–Colored Glasses

Mac, an agricultural alumnus of Illinois State University, says that he views the world through “cucurbit - colored glasses.” His great love is for the botanical family of Cucurbitaceae that includes pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, luffas, and melons. Mac is particularly interested in pumpkins, though he branches out to gourds, too. He has traveled the world in search of rare or unusual cucurbit seeds. After searching for varieties on six of the seven continents and in 30 different countries, Mac has been able to introduce a lot of pumpkin varieties to the United States. He celebrates the diversity of pumpkins and has a good collection of seeds of Native American and European varieties, as well as some from Africa, Australia and Asia.

Having 189 acres with which to work, Condill plants 63 acres in pumpkins each year, rotating the 63 acre plots with corn and soybean crops. The pumpkin seeds are first planted in a controlled environment and then transplanted 2 feet apart out in the fields. Because different species mature at different times, there are three different plantings to achieve maturity all at the right time.

Each year from September 15 to October 31 thousands of school children visit weekly, and as many as 12,000 people come out on the weekends, expressing delight in the pumpkins of many colors. It is only in the United States that people think of pumpkins as being only orange. Visitors to The Great Pumpkin Patch will realize that pumpkins come in many different shades of various colors that include white, green, blue, and striped. Pumpkin Patch guests also enjoy the vibrant colors of 5,000 chrysanthemums planted each year. The children encounter a petting zoo featuring several goats, pigs, exotic chickens, rabbits, a llama and an alpaca. In keeping with providing interests and activities for kids, there’s a children’s garden complete with a fountain.

Being a purist, Mac uses only hand - painted signs — many thousands of Them — around the farm. Another trademark of The Great Pumpkin Patch is the use of the Radio Flyer red wagons that many people remember with fond nostalgia from their childhood. He jokes that there are no red wagons to be found around Arthur, because he buys them all — 356 to date. In addition to farming, the Condills are also a family of educators.

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