The time was 4 a.m.
Adams Elementary students were still tucked into their beds dreaming of candy corn and jack-o’-lanterns, while Joshua Loera, nicknamed “the pumpkin cowboy,” was at their Spokane school unloading 500 pumpkins from his pickup onto Adams’ dew-covered front lawn.
Crows perched in the changing trees hoarsely yelled at Loera as it began to drizzle on the October morning.
When students arrived for school Tuesday, they were giddy to find a pumpkin patch set up in their schoolyard.
Motivated by food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Loera grows 10,000 pumpkins on his father’s Moses Lake property every year to sell to raise money for local charities. In the last three falls of the Great Pumpkinfest, the endeavor has raised more than $133,000 for charities around Spokane.
After two weekends of peddling pumpkins at downtown’s Brick West Brewing to benefit charities, Loera loads the leftovers into the bed of his black Toyota and sets up pumpkin patches at schools and churches for free for kids.
“We call it bringing the farm to the city,” Loera said. “We unload them and put patches everywhere.”
Loera, father to two Adams Elementary pupils, hauled the leftovers from the Brick West fundraiser to the school for kids to each select their own pumpkin, an agonizing decision for students.
“It’s cool seeing the little kids come out and get the biggest one and try to carry it,” Loera said. “It’s so cute.”
Kids swarmed the patch, making their way through the rows of gourds spread out on Adams Elementary’s front lawn. They weighed their options: Classic orange or ghostly white? Smooth, easily carved or a wart-covered knucklehead pumpkin? Enormous squash they would struggle to carry or a palm-sized jack-be-little?
Kindergartner Haylee Curtis selected an elongated butternut squash she cradled in her arms and sang to like an infant.
“My little baby,” Haylee sang. “I love this pumpkin because I got it outside.”
“It looks pretty, I like the dirt on it,” she added.
DJ Lewis cupped his miniature gourd in his hands. Though modest by contrast to his peers, who awkwardly held their bulky selections, his was a strategic choice. The fifth-grader is embroiled in a soon-to-be heated pumpkin decorating competition with his classmates. He’s planning to make his into a Minion.
“I’m probably going to paint it and get some blue pieces of paper for the overalls,” DJ explained referencing the animated characters’ signature uniforms.
He’ll have to impress the likes of Haylee and her classmates, the judges for the competition, but he’s confident the Minion will earn him the victory.