Jodie Colon is the Compost Project Manager at The New York Botanical Garden.
As the sun rose over our Great Pumpkin Path, where many visitors had spent October enjoying the fresh outdoor air while exploring the thousands of pumpkins, gourds, and squash that lined this sunny trail, 10 people arrived at the Conservatory Lawn. One by one, in a socially distanced dance, we hand-picked pumpkins from the recently closed exhibit.
Normally those gorgeous gourds and edible heirlooms in hues of peach, blue, green, and gold would be heading to Lehman College for the Pumpkin Smash, our NYC Compost Project’s annual fall festival. Last year more than 1,500 people joined us there to happily taste, toss, or take home pumpkins!
With the Lehman campus closed, the health and safety of our community on our minds, and a plethora of pumpkins on site, we found another way to get our post-Halloween pumpkins onto people’s plates.
Staff from multiple NYBG departments and NYC Compost Projects from NYBG, Queens Botanical Garden, and Big Reuse would collaborate to deliver pumpkins to community organizations serving meals and distributing groceries to the increasing number of families experiencing food insecurity due to COVID.
As we worked, our smiles were as wide as a jack-o’-lantern’s. We chimed in with pumpkin names or what people might make with the warty or crooked or huge ones we were holding. We took turns hoisting the ‘Fairy Tale’ pumpkins, so named because they look like Cinderella’s carriage. Although they are surprisingly hefty for their size, we knew from past Pumpkin Smashes that even the 25-pound varieties weren’t too heavy for Bronxites to take home on the bus.
In two hours, we had hauled and loaded 909 pumpkins. Behind us were the inedible ones destined for composting in our green zone. Ahead of us were opportunities to help people and inspire some smiles.
The Edible Academy van made two trips, delivering 315 pumpkins to the soup kitchens at Part of the Solution (POTS) and MASA. The Bronx Green-Up truck and van dropped 256 pumpkins at seven of our community gardens and Farm Hubs for distribution to their neighbors. NYBG’s NYC Compost Project van delivered 100 to Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, where they were a big hit with food pantry participants.
Big Reuse headed to three of our Bronx Food Scrap Drop-Off spots, unloading 115 pumpkins and picking up food scraps and yard waste for composting. And the Queens Botanical Garden brought 123 pumpkins to two sites in Queens. Sunnyside & Woodside Mutual Aid turned those pumpkins into savory and sweet dishes to serve to the community, and Astoria Values gave theirs out to the families they serve, prompting big grins from the children holding pumpkins as big as their heads.
Yes, there’s definitely something about pumpkins that makes people happy.
Weeks later, the apple gourd above my work-from-home desk still makes me smile. It is a welcome reminder of how, in the midst of a pandemic that cancelled our much-loved Pumpkin Smash, we still found a way to save the most meaningful part of it.
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