After a long summer of coronavirus isolation and uncertainty, the cool weather of fall brings a whiff of change in the air as droves of Aiken families prepare for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Many families make a beeline to Aiken's own pumpkin patch where 40 different varieties of pumpkins, squash, gourds and flowers are available to bring the perfect aesthetic to anyone's home.
Rick’s Produce and Garden Center, a seasonal pop-up stand on Whiskey Road, has been a key component in residents' holiday checklists for 25 years, and owner Rick Catts hopes this will remain the case for a quarter of a century more.
Catts buys his produce from farms throughout the country, including several Amish farmers.
"I kind of joke a little bit and say I go to wherever the pumpkins are carving," Catts said. "But I go wherever the best pumpkins are … and where the best weather permits pumpkins to grow."
Pumpkins grow best in cool, dry weather, which leads Catts to make trips to states like Pennsylvania and Indiana to find the best produce.
Such efforts pay off, Catts said, as the pumpkin patch continues to bring in new and long-time customers each year.
"I would say 75% of our (customers) are returning regulars," Catts said. "We see third generations (of families) coming here. We have parents who shopped here 20 years ago, and now they come back with their own kids … now they're getting used to coming here to buy their pumpkins and Christmas trees."
Pumpkins and gourds – even the uniquely named ones like Baby Bears, Big Toms and Warty Goblin – have a three-month shelf life, allowing buyers to keep their decorative gourds and pumpkins for months on end as long as they are not cut into or damaged.
As fall begins to bleed into winter and Christmas trees replace pumpkins, produce that doesn't sell after being sent to Good Earth, the stand's sister store in Augusta, go to a very specific customer.
"We actually have a hog farmer (that gets them)," Catts said. "(The pigs) really get to feast on a bunch of pumpkins as their own Thanksgiving meal. The shelf life on these pumpkins is so great they just put them in bins, and the pigs can feed off of them for weeks."
Rick’s Produce is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 2630 Whiskey Road, across from Target.