MATTAWAN, Mich.-- For the past 57 years along M43 in eastern Van Buren County just outside Mattawan you'll find a farm. The barn is orange, the lawn ornaments are orange, in fact...pretty much everything is a sea of orange. It's the home of a local celebrity of sorts that's known as Gene the Pumpkin Man. Gene is one of the nicest guys you'll meet!
With his orange cowboy hat, orange shirt, orange car, and countless other items in his home the bright color of orange, Gene has been selling gourds of all types for almost six decades. He owns and operates abouts 100 acres of land, and about 40 of them are pumpkins. Because Van Buren County saw their fair share of rain this year, the actual pumpkin crop was poor. Gene says bees only pollinate in a two or three day period with the pumpkin flowers and they don't pollinate in the rain. Not to worry...he had plenty trucked with a great selection.
His grandfather bought the farm in 1885 and Gene has never left the property for more than two weeks at a time. He had quite the bumper crop in 2005 with more than 200 tons (pumpkins) harvested, 15 tons of squash, and 95 percent of the crop sold...an unheard of amount for a perishable product.
"I sleep under orange bedsheets and under a pumpkin bedspread every night in the fall" says Gene. He worked 37 years for the state of Michigan and never attended college because the family was too poor. He knows everything about every kind of pumpkin variety you can think of. He carries about 15 different varieties of pumpkins and 15 varieties of squash. If you haven't heard the term before, pumpkins and things like squash are gourds. They're especially popular at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. People these days decorate with them, carve them, bake with them, and eat them. Their popularity has soared over the years. "57 years ago people would come out and buy one pumpkin and one squash. They would go home, carve the pumpkin and eat the squash. That was it! Now they'll go out of here with wagon loads" Gene says.
Gene Rhodes is one of the nicest, friendliest folks you'll meet. He loves to talk...he loves to tell stories. He lost his mom to cancer at an young age, his daughter has been cancer free for two years, and the love of his life, his wife Carol passed from it in 2012. Through it all he finds the time and the need to volunteer in Kalamazoo to help cancer patients. He emphatically says "it's the best paying job in the world! I'm a volunteer!"
You'll find large, medium, small pumpkins, birdhouse gourds, indian corn, pumpkin butter, honey, everything fall related. He even hands out receipes for cooking pumpkins and other gourds. Gene says "if you can cook a potato, you can cook a squash. Squash is one of the highest nutritional foods you can eat. Alot of folks don't realize that!"
He don't have a website, but find his Facebook page here. Here's the address, phone number, and actual location. 22637 M 43 Highway West
Kalamazoo, MI 49009 Phone: (269) 668-2952