By Stan Friedman
CARROLL, IA (October 29, 2010) – Jeff Grote hopes the church he is planting will grow as much as the pumpkins he has cultivated. You can tell he has big dreams – he was disappointed that his largest pumpkin this year weighed only 435 pounds.
Emmaus Covenant Church will start preview services in December, but Jeff and his wife, Melanie, already have gained some “notoriety” for the humongous orange fruit they have grown. (Botanically, pumpkins are considered fruit because they have seeds inside – in culinary terms, they are vegetables.)
Growing the great pumpkin not only bears some similarities to planting a church, there are also – preachers take note – some good sermon illustrations.
Jeff and Melinda moved two years ago to Carroll, a town of roughly 10,000 people plus another 12,000 in the rest of the county. They loved the community, but also saw a town ripe for a new church.
“After living here for two years, Melanie and I felt we could no longer just sit on the sidelines and watch people in their need,” Jeff says.
Taking up residence in Iowa also gave them a chance to live one of their dreams. “We have always dreamed about having a big garden and because of that, we were excited to do some serious gardening when we moved to Iowa,” Jeff says. He admits, “The learning curve has been a little steep for us.”
This actually is the second year the couple has tried to grow the pumpkins. Last year’s attempt didn’t go so well.
They paid $20 for 10 seeds that came from a 1,600 pounder in the Northeast. The couple germinated the seeds on the kitchen counter under a light and then planted them outside around Mother’s Day, after the danger of frost had passed.
“Unfortunately the seeds were not accustomed to 30 mph wind, and they all collapsed and died,” Jeff says, adding, “Note to self – pumpkin seedlings need wind protection.”
(By now, preachers should already have several illustrations).
Looking back on this year’s attempt, Jeff says there are no big secrets to success. Just basic gardening.
The couple protected the seedlings from the wind with drainage tile and watered them daily, hand-pollinating each plant once a small pumpkin appeared on the female blossom. They then selected the best three and watched them for two weeks to see which grew the fastest.
After selecting the best, the couple removed every other pumpkin on the plant “ruthlessly.” They then watered each plant with 15 gallons every day and kept the vines less than 25 feet from the main plant. “The experts say, ‘You are not growing vines, but pumpkins.’ ”
It’s doubtful the couple’s Labrador had misunderstood – let alone heard the experts – but he put an abrupt end to the growth when he chewed off two-thirds of the vines that fed the pumpkin.
(OK, if preachers don’t have half a dozen illustrations by now, they’re not paying attention.)
A neighbor helped Jeff get the pumpkin to a nearby grain elevator to be weighed. It came in at 435 pounds.
“Not what we hoped for, but there is always next year when we will set our sights on the 1,000-pound-plus mark,” Jeff says.
“I’m not sure why, but the notion of growing one of these big things has always been exciting to me,” Jeff adds. “I love to watch something really big come from something very small. I think that is why I love the idea of church planting.”
Jeff grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, but developed a fondness for Iowa when his parents would drive the family to visit his grandparents here.
“We have tons of pictures seen only in cherished family slide shows of my brother and sisters and me standing by every state sign along the way, but the most important one to me was Iowa,” Jeff says. “It used to read, ‘Iowa, a place to grow.’”
He has no doubt that the slogan will be true of Emmaus Covenant as well. “We believe we are on the verge of something really awesome!”