Wendy Alexander/TheMadera Tribune
The staff at Pro Mr. Z Realty sit in a pumpkin patch created by co-owner Ricardo Hernadez in the backyard of the office on Road 26. Hernandez and his staff’s children grew more than 1,000 pumpkins and he will donate them to the students of Madera Unified School District next week.
When Ricardo Hernandez saw a weed-riddled patch of land in the back of his Pro Mr. Z Realty office, his son came up with a great idea — plant a pumpkin patch.
Hernandez, with the help of his office staff and their children, and his son researched, planted and grew more than 1,000 pumpkins on the patch of land. Now, he will distribute more than 800 pumpkins to the 14 Madera Unified School District elementary schools next week.
“It was my son’s idea,” Hernandez said. “It was all the kids in the office that did the work. In the end, it’s Madera Unified School District kids giving back to MUSD kids. The kids started the project. We taught them how to farm. Now we want to teach them to give back. I’m very proud of all of these kids.”
The idea for a pumpkin patch formed at the beginning of the year when Hernandez was chopping down weeks in the back of his office on a tractor with his son.
“Every weekend, my son is with me,” Hernandez said. “I give him a broom, a little hammer and give him projects he can handle. When the quarantine first started, he was with me and we were looking at the yard behind the office and we had a lot of weeds. We have to chop down the weeds for the abatement. I had a tractor out there. He loves being on my lap and being on the tractor. We were out there in January or February knocking down the weeds. He randomly started talking about Halloween. Being a dad, one of the questions I asked is why he likes Halloween so much. He said we get to go trick or treating and I get to eat all the candy I want. We get to dress up and the third thing was we get to carve pumpkins. I said we have all this land and wouldn’t it be cool to grow pumpkins. That’s where the idea came from, from my 4-year-old son. He gets all the credit. I said, we’ll grow a pumpkin patch.”
Hernandez, who is a partial owner at Pro Mr. Z Realty with Vera Cofeen, originally started to grow the pumpkins at his home.
“We did a trial run at our house. We planted a few pumpkins, and about a week or two later, they started to sprout. My son was happy we grew pumpkins. He starting picking them, but there were no pumpkins, just a root.”
Hernandez then went to the internet to find a solution.
“I’m not a farmer. I’m a builder and a realtor,” he said. “I started researching on Google and YouTube on how to grow pumpkins. I found out that pumpkins love cow manure.”
Then, Hernandez started reaching out to people he knew to help out, like his father-in-law.
“My father-in-law is a dairyman,” Hernandez said. “He runs a dairy in Easton, DeGroot Farming. We talked to him and about our project. I asked to buy some, but he said to take all I wanted. I took a few trailer-loads, spread it out. The next thing is we need water. That’s kind of up my alley. The guy that does all my wells is Daniel Ruiz of DR Drilling. I reached out to him about my project, but don’t know if my well is capable of producing enough water for irrigation. He went out there and our well was not strong enough to produce all these pumpkins. He switched the pump from a one-horsepower pump to a three-horsepower pump. He donated everything. I wasn’t even asking for this. He helped me out and had an extra pump at his shop. He installed it and we’re producing enough water for the office and the pumpkin patch. He also donated all the irrigation drip. The only thing I had to purchase were the pumpkin seeds. This is amazing and I wasn’t expecting this.”
Hernandez then worked to gather up a workforce and turned to the realtors in his office.
“We wanted to get these kids involved,” he said. “All the moms said to sign my kid up. We had a little pizza party at my house and they planted all the pumpkins at my house. After about a month, once they sprouted/germinated, we went out and transplanted every single pumpkin at my office. The kids were out there at 5 a.m. We fed them donuts and chocolate milk. We were done at 9 a.m. My son’s job was, three days a week, to go to the office and turn on the water and turn it off.”
According to his research, Hernandez said the pumpkins needed between 100-120 days for it to reach full maturity.
“We counted the days and May 30 was the perfect day to plant the pumpkins,” he said. “Now, we grew over 1,000 pumpkins.”
What was first thought of as an opportunity for children to come to his office and pick their own pumpkins changed when the COVID-19 virus kept the country on quarantine.
“The original idea was Madera doesn’t have a local pumpkin patch,” he said. “I’m a small business owner in Madera so if I can keep my money here, locally, I will. Unfortunately, we have to drive to Fresno to support another family for pumpkins. Let’s create Madera’s first pumpkin patch. That was the original idea. This is a golden opportunity to have a community event, something positive other than coronavirus.
“I thought corona was going to blow over and not be as serious as it is now. I was way wrong. We’re still on lockdown. Now, after talking to Vera, we thought, ‘Is it worth it to have a pumpkin patch? What if it gets passed through our office? The liability is too high. We have all these pumpkins. What do we do with all of these pumpkins? I grew up playing sports. Sports are cancelled, you can’t go to the movies and you can’t even go to your friend’s house. Right now, to be a kid sucks. Those are the golden years for the kids. You wake up and have fun. These kids are stuck at home listening to their parents all day. We decided to donate the pumpkins to the school district and give back to the kids.”
After talking with MUSD, Hernandez will deliver 80 pumpkins to each elementary school, which will be given to families during Wednesday’s weekly lunch pick-up.
“I know it’s not a lot of pumpkins, but I didn’t want anyone to be left out,” he said.
Hernandez’s proudest moment came when he is able to take what his son thought of and make it into a reality.
“My goal as a dad is to have those crazy dreams and go out and work for them,” he said. “I got to see my four-year-old son have a crazy idea and figure out how to do it. We have a little garden at our house and he’s burying everything. If it looks like a seed, he’s putting it into the ground like Skittles and M&M’s. He enjoys it. He gets up, waters his pumpkins and for him, it’s the hardest work.”