Utter, Collard share in the excitement of picking the perfect pumpkin
UtterCo Pumpkins partners Jillian Utter and husband Nolan Collard have become passionate pumpkin people watchers.
“We try not to be creepy,” she laughed. “But it’s fun watching them.”
“People can be so excited to pick out the, or their perfect pumpkin,” Collard agreed. “‘That’s the best for me.’”
The young couple set out to simply find a diverse farming activity they could share in, and have ended up spreading joy, one colourful, unique squash at a time. Growing things comes naturally from both family backgrounds, the Utters cash croppers based west of Norwich, Collard hailing from a mixed dairy/cash cropping operation near Dutton. He also brings a little inside track expertise due to his family’s annual participation in the Wallacetown Fair’s Big Pumpkin competition.
“Cash crop all around,” said Utter. “We just wanted to try something different.”
Exploring cucurbit (vine crops) cultivation dovetails nicely with her consulting and sales job with BASF (Collard works with FS Partners), giving Utter some practical firsthand field experience with technique and products, as well as time shared around busy careers.
“It’s cool to work together a bit instead of never seeing each other,” said Collard.
Their experiment began with half-an-acre on the Utter home farm in 2019, progressing to two acres as they head into their fourth year.
“It’s enough for the two of us to pick, that’s for sure,” she laughed.
Pumpkins can be a lot of work, physical in nature at harvest time and gradual expansion means they are considering sourcing additional employees. Beyond her biology degree from Wilfrid Laurier and both of their family backgrounds, they aren’t afraid to seek out technical advice on what began as a new crop, adding ‘well supported’ to ‘well educated.’
UtterCo Pumpkins features around 25 varieties, three more familiar ‘old school’ types for Jack O’Lantern carving, including a half-dozen or so hundred pounders which are scooped up by the end of the season. A significant majority however are what could be termed designer models, teal, pink, red or small white versions for example.
“Blue, green, beige even,” said Collard. “Yellow is a fun one too.”
“Nice and bright,” agreed Utter. “Anything different - that’s what people want.”
Consumer trends vary, says Collard.
“One year it’s the yellow one, one the pink - and the next it’s the green. You never know.”
Size and colour preference may run the full gamut of a pumpkin rainbow, however a majority of customers are seeking multi-use product.
“We have a lot of people who ask for something edible,” said Utter. “They put it on their porch for a week or two and then pull them inside and use them for soups or as squash,” she continued, alluding to a personal favourite pink-and-blue variety.
“They have this beautiful, coloured flesh.”
UtterCo Pumpkins opens a roadside stand on the Utter home farm around Labour Day through to Thanksgiving and the couple also personally staffs a booth Saturdays during the fall at a well-travelled spot in Norwich along Oxford Road 59 between Tim Horton’s and the Petro Canada service station.
“It’s an opportunity to see people,” Utter explained.
“And we enjoy it,” Collard added.
The decorative qualities of their pumpkins have proven highly attractive for fall weddings.
Sixty were sourced for one, Collard’s sister is looking to base her own table centrepieces on their products, and Jillian and Nolan backdropped some of their own August 21, 2021 wedding pictures with UtterCo Pumpkins.
“We picked a couple early just for photos,” Utter smiled.
Beyond the undeniably visual attractiveness of the pumpkins themselves, family familiarity in the community and small-town word-of-mouth, UtterCo Pumpkins also shares pertinent information and photos via a Facebook page.
“You start with zero experience and it gets better every year,” Collard summed up.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Utter agreed. “It’s been special and fun and something different.”
And at the end of the day, watching people pick out their pumpkins may be the most fun for both. Particularly during COVID-19 restrictions, although certainly not exclusively, some savour their selection process as an extended outing, taking their time to ensure they’ve found their perfect specimen. Kids get ‘so excited’ smiles Utter, a term applicable to all ages and open to a wide variety of personal preferences.
“You’ll see a couple,” Collard concluded. “She’s got seven different speciality ones, he’s got the big one - and they both go home happy.”
Nolan Collard and Jillian Utter have enjoyed creation and operation of UtterCo Pumpkins so much, they used their roadside stand and a few early samples as a backdrop for a wedding photo. The Norwich-area couple grow around 25 varieties on two acres of the Utter family home farm.