How pumpkins and Halloween became big business for this Colchester couple

YOU know autumn has really arrived when the sight of orange pumpkins greets you in shops, garden centres and outside many homes. In recent years, buying a pumpkin and carving it out for a traditional Halloween decoration or to create an autumnal display seems to have increased in popularity. No-one could agree more than pumpkin farmer Emily French, whose pumpkin farm business in Aldham has hugely expanded after it diversified to open its first pick your own patch there is 2015.

Now the business, Foxes Farm Produce, is not only one of the UK’s leading pumpkin wholesale growers, but spans over 100 acres. It run by Emily and her husband, Guy. It has a picking patch in Basildon too which opened at the same time as Aldham’s.

“The way the UK acts in consumer behaviour is it copies America and America is so into its Halloween and different festivals. “I think not necessarily just for Halloween but also for autumn, actually people decorate their doors more. There is now more of a focus on autumn,”said Emily.

Foxes Farm Produce grows thousands of pumpkins that it supplies to the likes of theme parks for events and other pumpkin patches. Such is the trend for picking pumpkins, Foxes Farm has even played host to celebrities in recent years, including from presenter couple Joe Swash and Stacey Solomon to Aldham last year. ITV’s This Morning also did a live broadcast from the Aldham farm in 2019 with presenter Alison Hammond.

Emily said: “Alison turned up and it was a segment all about pumpkins. We talked about the different varieties, how you can cook them and how they grow. The field was totally orange and you could see the vines – it was a really good day.”

When the farm began in 2007, its focus wasn’t on pumpkins, but Emily and Guy spotted an opportunity. Emily said: “When I met Guy we did a lot of veg together, but quickly established it was pumpkins that we could see a growing market for.” The business started to supply pumpkins on a wholesale basis to nearby retail outlets and garden centres, but demand soon meant their market could expand.

“Now there is a whole team, including harvesters, truck drivers, and we drive throughout the UK, but we have been working with a third party deliverer for ten years.” That partnership has enabled the business to establish itself across the UK with produce being driven far and wide, even to Cornwall. Emily added: “Back in 2015 the Pick your Own market seemed to be picking up and there was more of a focus on where food comes from and we decided to open the fields [to the public] and that was a real success and we have been doing that ever since.”

Despite a challenging harvest, no thanks to limited sunlight hours, the pumpkin picking patches are now raring to go to welcome visitors. Its 12 labourers cut the pumpkins from their vines and lift them. More than 15 different varieties of squash, pumpkin and gourd are grown.

Among the most popular are the standard, traditional orange pumpkins which come in a variety of sizes and are all edible, although Emily advises that the smallest are the tastiest as they contain more water. Another popular variety of pumpkin is the Crown Prince – grey on the outside but with orange flesh – effective for using in displays and for painting. The hand-sized, orange Munchkin variety and white coloured equivalent, Baby Boo are also favourites.

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