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Family gets a bumper crop

About as long as 32-year-old Henry Pommerening has been alive -- certainly as long as he can remember -- his family has spent their fall peddling pumpkins out on his grandparents' southern Cottage Grove farm.

It's a Pommerening pumpkin tradition: each summer, family members get out in the field, mound the dirt, drop in five seeds, walk another 12 feet and do it again. Then, come autumn, they share their wares with south Washington County.

His late-grandfather, Henry, started it. Now the younger Henry continues it.

So, last autumn was something like a snowless Minnesota Christmas for the Pommerenings -- bugs and heat conspired to kill off the crop, save for five-or-so squash, a rarity in the past three decades.

But looking over rows of fat, orange pumpkins on a crisp, sun-splashed fall day last week, Henry Pommerening tells a different tale in 2009.

"We got blessed this year, that's for sure," said Pommerening, who helps carry on what his late grandfather started in the mid-1970s on a 14-acre farm near Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park.

"He worked for an oil company," Ruth Pommerening said of her late-husband's start in pumpkin growing. "But it was the old thing: you can't take the farm out of the boy."

Despite a historically dry summer in many parts of Minnesota -- and dire forecasts of a poor pumpkin crop -- the Pommerenings had a banner season, turning out hundreds of the ubiquitous fall fruit after treating the soil and using a homemade irrigation system to keep them watered.

Henry and the family have carried on another of the family's traditions, too -- keeping the pumpkins cheap.

A plump Pommerening pumpkin runs just $4.

"Grandpa always wanted to keep them affordable, so everyone could get them," Henry said.

And it's not only pumpkins for sale come autumn at the Pommerenings; for a decade, Ruth has also run a small boutique out of an old garage, selling fall and Christmas-themed crafts.

The former Crestview Elementary librarian used to sell her goods at craft shows, too. Now, she says this year is her last for operating her autumn boutique.

"Because I'm getting too old," Ruth said.

But, the pumpkins, they say, will continue to be planted, picked and sold out on the old farm the city couldn't take out of grandpa.

For sale

Pumpkins and other gourds are available for sale at the Pommerening farm, 9826 East Point Douglas Road, on weekends. Ruth Pommerening's crafts will be on sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16 and Saturday, Oct. 17.