ABA Banking Journal - May 2010 - (Page 48)
First person | MIKE FIRESTINE
Pumpkins as therapy
Not only does this seasonal favorite provide a nice sideline business, it helps rehabilitate problem teens
When Mike Firestine’s hopes are squashed, that’s a good thing.
The veteran agricultural lender has a sideline in pumpkins. It’s not your backyard hobby. Firestine, senior vice-president and senior agriculture lending officer at Fulton Bank, Lebanon, Pa., grows thousands of pumpkins annually. He’s done so, commercially, for more than 30 years. In the beginning, Firestine only sought a way to make his farmland pay better. “Little niche markets tend to be more profitable than corn and soybeans,” he explains. He and his family chose the seasonal favorites, initially wholesaling these members of the squash family (genus Cucurbita) to nurseries, greenhouses, and stores. But then folks began spotting his fields adjoining U.S. 422, the Benjamin Franklin Highway, in Womelsdorf, Pa., and Pennsylvania banker asked if he’d let them pick their own. Mike Firestine Why not? he thought. Now he and shows off champion 80 pound “Super Herc” friends, family, and employees pick the pumpkin. He also grows best pumpkins for Firestine’s long-time “Camaros,” and buyers. Then in September and October “Cinderellas.” the school and family crowd snaps up the rest at holiday time. The culls go to some of the banker’s cattle, who love the crunchy seeds. The u-pick site goes by the name “Teenie’s Pumpkin Patch,” named for Firestine’s wife, Martene. Firestine, former chairman of the ABA’s Agricultural and Rural Banking Committee, maintains a line of credit himself. Raising pumpkins is a highcost endeavor. Part of the reason why is that pumpkins face several pests, including the nefarious cucumber beetle. Creating of varieties that will resist these pests means seeds are expensive. Also, a constant spraying program must be maintained to keep the insects and two destructive forms of mildew at bay. All in all, Firestine says you can farm 50 acres of corn for what 20 acres of pumpkins cost. Pumpkins have done right by Firestine, but he’s found more than money and periodic show victories in his payoff. “One thing about growing pumpkins is you meet a lot of nice people, and you see them many times over the years,” the banker explains. He’s been at this long enough that he’s employing teens who first visited the farm as kindergartners, who would call him “the pumpkin man” when they spotted him in the community. But there’s another angle, too. It began with vandalism. A pair of local kids set fire to a field of oats that Firestine owns. When asked if he would press charges, he thought about it awhile and responded,
48 | ABA BANKING JOURNAL | MAY 2010
“I have fields where I have trouble getting rid of the rocks….” His notso-subtle hint: Let the kids work off their guilt. The authorities loved the idea. Later, local schools, hearing about that episode, asked Firestine if he’d take on some teens with behavioral problems. He did, putting them to work as “pickers,” “cutters,” “throwers,” and “catchers” at harvest time. Not all of them changed, but some, given a chance, turned around. Some just needed an adult ear. “When you’re out in a pumpkin field, you talk,” says Firestine. “And raising pumpkins is a good relief valve for me, too.” n — Steve Cocheo
photo courtesy the republican-herald
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ABA Banking Journal - May 2010
ABA Banking Journal - May 2010
Seeing Red Over Appraisals?
Pass the Aspirin
On Top of Their Game
What’s John Kanas up to?
Surveys & Trends
ABA Banking Journal - May 2010