Passionately Pink: Tigges Farm grows pastel pumpkins to fight cancer
October 6, 2014
Thunder bellowed and rain pelted off the metal walls that make up the storefront at Tigges Farm, but Kathy Rickart was far away from the storm. Her mind was in 1986, the year stomach cancer took her father. She was in 2008, when her mother succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Then, as her eyes met the wall separating her from the torrential downpour outside, she was back in the present.
Outside, pink pumpkins sitting on a bale of hay, with rain bouncing off their thick, strangely-colored rinds, each pay testament to a loss — to a hope. And though the seeds are expensive and the yield is small, to Rickart and her siblings, growing pumpkins to benefit breast cancer research through the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation is worth it.
"The biggest reward is just remembering Mom and Dad," Rickart said. "Mom, Dad, aunts, cousins. That's the reward — remembering them."
The Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation was founded in Rocky Ford in 2012. Using DP Seeds' hybrid seed variety, called Porcelain Dolls, they began a seed distribution program for farmers who wanted to grow a unique product with philanthropic impact.
For every pink pumpkin grown, 25 cents is donated back to the foundation, which then distributes the funds to various organizations that support breast cancer research and treatment.
Tigges Farm, located in north Greeley, Colo., has grown the pink pumpkins for two years.
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"We wanted to do something that was a fundraiser in recognition, in memory of Mom and Dad, and that made a little bit of money somewhere along the line," Rickart said. "We just wanted to do something that fit the farm. Raising pumpkins fits the farm."
Challenges with weather and soil quality have kept Tigges, one of only three pink pumpkin growers in the state, from being able to harvest a full yield of Porcelain Doll pumpkins yet. Last year, less than 30 pumpkins survived the hail and floods.
Soil conditions prevented a full harvest this year. Rickart, brother Ken Tigges and sister Gale Loeffler, harvested 60-70 pumpkins.
The pink pumpkin patch is small — only three rows — but if next year provides a full harvest, Rickart said they could increase their harvest by a third, and the siblings aren't about to give up yet.
"The 'why' is easy – its promoting cancer awareness and hopefully, the fundraising will help to come up with a cure. Having lost our parents and other relatives to cancer, why wouldn't we?" asked Loeffler.
For Ken Tigges, it's about having the chance to bring the community into their efforts.
"We have the opportunity with the agribusiness here to encourage people to support the research," he said. "It's one of the nice parts about this stand that we can do it."
Tigges Farm has been owned by the family since 1936. When his mother died, Tigges took over the farm and ensured that he would keep it as his mother wanted — in the family and in agriculture.
The farm branched into agritourism last year and began offering not only the pumpkin patch, but events throughout the fall. Each activity they hold on weekends in October is completely free, an expense the family bears to bring young families a fun outing and agricultural experience.
Rickart said families have been coming to Tigges Farm for generations for the pumpkin patch, and now, young people that started off toddling through the rows of squashes are coming back to take their senior portraits alongside the pumpkins.
"It's great," Rickart said, remembering one young woman who brought an orange sofa with her to the farm to take her picture. "I want the kids to get a feeling for the real roots of America."
The side of one building at Tigges Farm is decorated with large paintings modeled after quilt squares, which Rickart calls barn quilts. One shows a polygonal columbine flower, to celebrate Colorado. Another displays three traditional orange pumpkins and one pink pumpkin. Next to it is a sign honoring six people the Tigges family has lost to cancer.
Though the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation is dedicated specifically to breast cancer research, Rickart said the family tries to support the fight against all kinds of cancer.
This year, they will be re-selling water bottles that Rickart bought through a fundraiser for the MD Anderson Cancer Center through Jason's Deli. The proceeds will again be donated to the cancer research center.
"I feel the victim of cancer is society in general," Tigges said. "Everybody knows somebody that's went through it. I'm hoping, we're all hoping, for a cure."
The family tries to give in other ways, as well. All three siblings recalled multiple instances when someone came to the farm and needed a little help. Whether they were unable to pay their entire bill or were enduring hard times, the family did their best to take care of them.
"It's okay to give, we feel," Loeffler said. "When you give, you get."
Now, even with all three of the siblings at age 65 or older, there's no stopping Tigges Farm from giving back and continuing to provide a little piece of agriculture to an ever-urbanizing world.
"They say that you can't find retirement in the scriptures, so we can't retire," Tigges said. ❖