Halloween is still nearly a month away, but pumpkin patches have already begun sprouting up around Columbia County.
Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes and decorative autumn items including gourds, corn tassels, wheat bundles, bales of hay, and Indian and strawberry corn, have crowded the front lawn of Harlem United Methodist Church since Monday, when the church opened its third annual Pumpkin Patch to the public.
The patch is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday at the church at 115 Milledgeville Road in downtown Harlem. The Patch will sell pumpkins and related wares through Oct. 31.
"The big thing for us is field trips for local schools and preschools," the Rev. Roger Vest said, adding that about 600 children attended story time in 2005 and 1,100 came last year. He said about 2,700 youngsters from five counties have already signed up to visit the patch this fall.
The field trip is for children pre-K through second grade and includes a small pumpkin for each child, a large class pumpkin, a craft, a snack, a guided tour of The Pumpkin Patch and a science lesson about the life cycle of a pumpkin, Vest said.
"It is incredible," Vest said, adding that all proceeds from the patch go back into the community through local missions. "It is fun. The kids like it."
For more information or to schedule a field trip, call the church at (706) 556-6885.
Pumpkins also are expected to spring up at Marvin United Methodist Church on Saturday.
"It is our largest fundraiser of the year," said David Garber, an organizer of the church's annual Pumpkin Patch. "Generally we use (the proceeds) for missions and other related activities."
Garber said Marvin's patch will have pumpkins for sale as well as decorative items including mums, gourds, blue corn and hay bales.
The patch is open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday through Halloween at the church at 4400 Wheeler Road in Martinez.
Volunteers will lead a storytelling for children's groups such as preschools. To schedule a story time, call the church at (706) 863-0510.
Then there's Wesley United Methodist Church, which will open its Pumpkins With a Purpose patch Tuesday. Proceeds from the sale benefit the church's two foreign missions in Africa and Honduras, said Linda Jolly, an event coordinator.
Visitors are welcome to peruse the variety of pumpkins and items including a variety of flowers from 9 a.m. to dark from Tuesday through Halloween at the church at 825 N. Belair Road in Evans.
"It is a fun time. It is something the community, they look forward to it," Jolly said.
The church is holding a free Family Fun Night in the patch on Oct. 17. The festivities will include pony rides, a petting zoo and wagon rides.
For more information, call (706) 869-0888.
Once the pumpkins are carved and the Halloween costumes are chosen, families are invited to celebrate the holiday at the Columbia County Amphitheater for the Pumpkin Festival. The event, put on by the Red Wagon Society of the MCG Children's Medical Center, will be held from 3 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 20.
"We hope families will come out and get into the holiday spirit," said Julie Vaughn, an MCG Health Inc. special events coordinator. The event is the first fundraiser for the Red Wagon Society, which is a volunteer society of the MCG Children's Medical Center.
At 7:30 p.m., the Halloween classic It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will be shown on a big screen. Entry to the festival costs $5 and children two and under get in free.
The festival also has crafts, hay rides, moonwalks, face and pumpkin paintings and entertainment by local performers. A costume contest for children and pets will begin at 6 p.m. Admission is $3.
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