Celebrate fall with Michigan pumpkins and MSU Pumpkinfest

Pumpkins are not only a nutritious food and fall decoration, but also a way to learn about agricultural science in Michigan.

Guests at the 2015 Pumpkinfest enjoy a fall day at the Tollgate Farm and Education Center. Photo: Alan Jaros, MSU.

Guests at the 2015 Pumpkinfest enjoy a fall day at the Tollgate Farm and Education Center. Photo: Alan Jaros, MSU.

Michigan agriculture may be best known for tart cherries, pickling cucumbers and milk production, but many more food items are produced in the Great Lakes State. In fact, Michigan has the second most diverse agriculture industry in the nation. Pumpkins are a fall favorite and one of the over 300 agricultural commodities produced in Michigan. The state ranks No. 4 nationwide for pumpkin production, a product harvested September through October. This member of the squash family is actually a fruit, a berry to be specific, because the seeds are imbedded in the flesh.

Pumpkins are perhaps most often thought of as a pie filling, but it is a very versatile food with many health benefits that can be prepared in numerous ways. For example, the seeds may be roasted; the flesh cooked as a sweet side dish or boiled, steamed, baked or microwaved; made into soup; or preserved in other ways, such as freezing or canning. In addition to serving as food, pumpkins are often used as decorations in the fall, especially when carved as jack-o-lanterns. The history and stories behind why pumpkins were used as ornaments is fascinating and a way to help youth (and adults) learn more about world cultures and holidays.

Besides being fun to eat and carve, pumpkins can serve as a great way to learn about science. Whether it is in the kitchen experimenting with different pumpkin pie recipes, thinking about what makes the perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin, or visiting a local pumpkin patch to learn more about agricultural science, the pumpkin is a great way to ask questions and discover answers about the natural world.

One opportunity presented by Michigan State University Extension to learn more about pumpkins, agriculture and science is MSU Pumpkinfest held at the Tollgate Farm and Education Center, Oct. 8-9, 2016. Sponsored by VIBE Credit Union and in partnership with Novi Public Library, MSU Pumpkinfest will offer Tollgate visitors a chance to explore the farm, take a wagon ride to pick out the perfect pumpkin, learn more about sustainable agriculture in Michigan, and much more.

Alan Jaros, education director at Tollgate, looks forward to the annual event, now in its third year, saying, “The MSU Tollgate Pumpkinfest is a great opportunity to experience the bounty and beauty of the fall harvest. With tons of activities, tasty food, live music and of course beautiful pumpkins, your family is sure to have a wonderful time.”

Whether pumpkins are used for cooking, carving or picking, they are a great way to engage youth in science exploration. MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM content are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”