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Prescott Farm Donates Pumpkins

For years now, NRF has been fortunate to partner with the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener program to assist in the care, interpretation, and programming of three gardens at Prescott Farm—an 18th-century vegetable garden, herb garden, and a three-sisters garden that attempts to replicate the growing practices of the Narragansett peoples who have called Aquidneck Island home for millennia. The Master Gardeners are all volunteers who train at URI and then volunteer their time to work on projects throughout the state. Similar programs can be found across the country. Typically, the Master Gardeners have donated all of their produce to Lucy’s Hearth, an exceptional organization dedicated to helping families experiencing homelessness.  In 2020, the Master Gardeners continued that tradition but did even more.

Early in the year, our Director of Museums, Dr. Erik Greenberg, met with Susan Estabrook, who has overseen the Master Gardeners’ program at Prescott Farm for years, and asked if they could grow a pumpkin patch, which NRF could then donate to the children at Newport’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center (MLK) in time for Halloween. Dr. Greenberg has dedicated much of his career to community outreach, and he has been working with the MLK Center to figure out ways in which the museums of NRF can be a resource to their staff and to the people who make use of the center on a regular basis. As always, Susan and her team threw themselves into the work with expertise and passion, growing enough pumpkins to donate to the center with more to spare.

“It was important to me to make sure the pumpkins we grew were all good eating pumpkins so that the kids could learn they are not just decorations but actually a great food source,” said Estabrook. “As we know, the seeds and the flesh are nutritious and can be eaten when prepared in a sweet or savory way.”

The gardeners decided to grow three different varieties of pumpkins. “Baby Pam” and “Small Sugar Pie” pumpkins, which are both small round varieties recommended for eating, were grown for the MLK Center. The third variety, “New England Long Pie Pumpkin,” which looks like an overgrown zucchini squash but orange in color, were grown to be donated to Lucy’s Hearth.

At Prescott Farm, the Master Gardeners chose a plot of land to grow pumpkins that was located to the east of the windmill, which was a prime spot full of sun and had never been used for growing crops before. They marked out the plot and covered it with cardboard, paper, and leaves.  One of the volunteer gardeners brought in two dump trucks full of bagged leaves. After leaving the leaves and paper on for some time, they chopped the leaves and then covered them with compost. They then planted through it, never having to till the soil. The plants were started at Estabrook’s home first, then transferred to the farm and covered with row cover to protect them from critters and give them a boost of warmth. One devoted volunteer was in charge of watering, and once the plants got to the point of needing pollinators, they were uncovered and left to do their thing!

Many visitors to Prescott Farm watched the pumpkins grow and came back to see them when they were ripe. “It was a great learning experience for all and a good draw to the property for the local families,” said Estabrook. “We grew over two hundred pumpkins that amounted to over 500lbs.”

The pumpkins were delivered to the MLK Community Center on October 26th to be used in their education programs (preschool and after school) to not only decorate, but to explore. The Center’s preschool participates in “Pumpkin science” as part of their STEM curriculum where students have the opportunity to explore parts of a pumpkin, measure the size and shape, feel the fibrous insides, and make nutritious roasted pumpkin seeds.

The students pictured are from the MLK Community Center’s preschool classrooms. They enjoyed working with their pumpkins the entire week. They did pumpkin experiments: Will they float or sink in water? How tall is it? They made scientific observations of pumpkins and squash. They learned about what’s inside both pumpkins and squash, and what happens outside as Autumn approaches.

Dr. Greenberg hopes that this is the first in a series of community-based projects that demonstrates NRF’s commitment to the people of Aquidneck Island, and he (as well as the entire staff at NRF) are deeply grateful for our longstanding partnership with the Master Gardeners. Many thanks to all organizations involved in making this project possible.

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