Even before the calendar or temperature announces the arrival of fall, a plethora of pumpkins seem to magically appear on every home gardener’s available outdoor space.
The seasonal decorative bonanza culminates with Halloween.
Come November, much of this pumpkin palooza gets tossed and taken away as trash, headed for the landfill, where each discarded orange (or white, yellow, or green) squash decomposes.
The waste factor wasn’t lost on Jennifer Siefert, who had always lived in farm country, first raised in Maryland’s Harford County, and currently residing in rural Loudon County, Va.
Not letting anything of use go to waste was a value instilled in her by her grandfather, who, she recalled, always cut off both ends of each toothpaste tube, to get every last bit.
During high school and college, Siefert had been involved with environmental service organizations. A few years ago, after witnessing perfectly good pumpkins piling up around area trash cans come November, her ecological instincts kicked in again.
In 2017, while visiting the local farm where she purchased eggs, Siefert asked if they could use pumpkins to feed their animals. The reply was a resounding “yes,” inspiring her to ask 10 more farmers. Soon, she was printing flyers with tear off tags and posting as many as she could in coffee shops, beauty salons, and other locations.
The grassroots effort she named Pumpkins for Pigs met with a great response from the outset, and currently has farmers, animal sanctuaries, and others in 37 states listed on its website linking folks having extra pumpkins, gourds and other animal friendly items with those who can make good use of them.
(Even on a recent vacation trip to Hawaii, Siefert said she was excited to solicit a positive response from a coffee farmer.)
While Pumpkins for Pigs provides a catchy, easily remembered name, goats, chickens, cows, and other critters also enjoy and benefit nutritionally from pumpkins, which are said to act as natural dewormers, she added.
As the website states, “Our mission is to match pigs (and other pumpkin eating animals) with (ideally) uncarved, non-inked/non-painted (other than water based) pumpkins, to prevent them from being thrown in the landfill. Donated pumpkins are excellent feed and a wonderful treat to the farms and sanctuaries. Pumpkins also make great compost. Thanksgiving comes up and we start moving onto the next holiday but often our pumpkins are in perfectly fine shape, and it’s a waste to throw them out when they are still useful to feed the animals.”
(The donated food source also helps farms and sanctuaries by defraying costs of feed, she added).
Welcoming any and all feedback, Siefert has been glad to get recent requests for surplus acorns, kiddie pools for baby animals, and locally grown, non-sprayed Christmas trees, especially for goats. At her own home, Siefert said she delights in shoveling up the plentiful carpeting of acorns in her yard which makes walking treacherous.
A friend helped her set up and continues to host the website at pumpkinsforpigs. Otherwise, it’s Siefert’s ongoing outreach operation, which also has Facebook and Instagram pages to get the word out.
While delighted with the way the effort has resonated, Siefert has learned to offer caveats to those donating in order to consider that some on the receiving end are smaller farms and homesteads, which can only take in so much. (Sometimes, local groups like schools have even gotten competitive about who can donate the most, she added, with a chuckle).
The carefully maintained listing of places to donate in each state includes contact information, address, a listing of items accepted for donation, and specific drop off location and instructions.
“Please check the listings and call ahead before heading out with a truckload,” Siefert urged.
Among the 29 Maryland sites listed as welcoming pumpkins and other items are two Mid Shore farms — Crazy Town Farms in Ridgely and Rips Hog Farm in Cordova.
Justin T. Ebling, a dad of five, began Crazy Town Farms three years ago, raising pasture fed protein-providing animals including pigs, chickens, beef cattle and turkey.
Ebling listed his farm on the Pigs for Pumpkins directory for the first time last year. Mindful of providing an organic non GMO-diet to his animals, he accepts donations of primarily uncarved, unpainted pumpkins, but asked that people contact him at 410-924-7715, visit https://Crazytownfarms.com, email Crazytownfarms@gmail.com, or message via his Facebook Page to learn about how to drop off or arrange pick up.
Although Ebling’s dad and grandfather had worked for food related companies, he wasn’t raised on a farm.
“Until I did this, I’d never raised an animal other than a dog, or a goldfish,” he admitted.
But several years ago his own family’s frequent illnesses led him to try leading a healthier overall lifestyle, starting with locally-raised food like eggs.
The experience produced such positive results, Ebling moved forward, learning from the growing online homesteading community. He leased land from a retired farmer in Ridgely and decided to try his hand at raising 10 chickens (currently, he’s up to about 75) later bringing in five pigs, which he said his kids have loved helping care for, plus cows and last year, turkeys.
Like Ebling, Brandyn Rolf hadn’t ever been a farmer, but his beloved grandfather, Richard “Rip” Rolf, had raised pigs while growing up in Minnesota, often regaling a delighted Brandon with stories.
Last year, when his grandfather passed away, Brandyn was inspired to honor his memory by getting his own pig to raise. On the Cordova property where he’d moved from Cambridge five years earlier, the father of four christened his enterprise Rip’s Hog Farm.
Today, his pig population has grown to 8 of various breeds. Rolf also said he delights in watching his youngsters care for the critters, knowing they’re also learning a crucial work ethic.
Continually educating himself about caring for his animals, Rolf regularly researches and purchases their feed from Chesapeake Seed and Feed in Cambridge.
During an online information dig, Rolf came across the Pumpkins for Pigs website and decided to register as a recipient.
While accepting pumpkins for his pigs, Rolf also takes gourds, hay bales, and straw, which are especially enjoyed by the goats raised by a friend.
Along with adding to the animal’s diets, Rolf finds it rewarding to replace the wasteful habits of discarding decorative holiday items with conscientious repurposing.
Those interested in donating surplus pumpkins and other items can call him on his cell phone at 443-521-7692 or drop off at 10408 Lewistown Road, Cordova.