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For months, since the demolition of Sammy’s Pizza, the corner of Arlington and Central Entrance in Duluth has been a barren, lifeless asphalt eyesore, until...
Appearing, almost magically overnight, a maze-like display of hay bales and countless pumpkins, stacked every-which-way, each with its own charm and personality, now transforms this sad location into a truly inspiring thing of natural beauty.
Since 2006, Derek DeCook, of Esko, has been out of his gourd creating whimsical and labor-intensive displays all over Duluth that both delight the eye and elevate mood. DeCook owns and operates DC’s Best Produce Farms which does most of its growing out of rural Rochester, MN, where the growing season is longer and he is able to cultivate heartier and more colorful varieties.
Owning a farm was a natural career path for DeCook, who grew up farming with his father and brothers. “I always enjoyed getting my hands dirty and the rewards of a hard day’s work.”
As evidenced by his displays, hard work isn’t the only thing DeCook is good at, he also possesses quite the artistic eye. “The first few years we had simpler displays with only orange pumpkins. Now we have many colors and varieties. People of all ages have fun with Halloween. I especially enjoy seeing kids run around picking out all the weird and strange varieties. Kids particularly enjoy the mini-pumpkins. White pumpkins have also become popular. Our displays provide perfect settings for fall pictures. Over the years, we have figured out that…‘IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME!’
As with any business, and particularly one that depends on Mother Nature, DeCook has suffered set-backs and challenges. “Some years, the weather has been unfavorable for pumpkin sales. We have adapted well to growing the correct varieties to withstand colder temperatures and rain. We’ve also had to install satellite cameras at each location to keep the vandalism down to a minimum.”
To ensure his businesses’ success, DeCook made the hard decision of moving permanently to Esko from the Rochester area where his family lives, although he drives back and forth frequently. Seasonal challenges also arise, “The long hours and too-little sleep are always a challenge on the week I am setting up, but after the displays are completed, I get caught up on my sleep.”
In spite of the challenges, DeCook would not change a thing, one of his greatest rewards year after year is seeing kids running around with giant smiles on their faces.
“I enjoy every part of my work: from planting seeds in the soil to watching a family pull a wagon-full of pumpkins to their car. I get a rush watching the pumpkins turn orange. I like to think these kids will always remember going to the pumpkin display each year to carefully select their prize pumpkin.”
“Every year, we design the stands differently and add new varieties of pumpkins so our customers can have different experiences. I want everyone that stops by to feel like they just walked into a pumpkin paradise and will want to return for a few more fall decorations. Most of all, I want customers to walk away smiling.”
You can visit DeCook’s pumpkin village between 9am and dark thru Halloween. Be careful, not to come too late, because legend has it that if you come after nightfall, you might just turn into a pumpkin!