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COLUMBIA CITY Ââ€” Dillon Sheiss is not your typical 10-year old. This Northern Heights fifth grader is a CEO of sorts for The Jack Patch, Dillonâ€™s own produce business specializing in a variety of pumpkins and gourds.
This is Dillonâ€™s fifth year growing pumpkins. Kelley Sheiss, Dillonâ€™s mother, said his interest in the orange squash took root in Pennsylvania.
â€śWe have some friends who live there,â€ť said Kelley. â€śDillon liked walking through their patch and he decided to give it a try. They helped us know what best to do to grow the pumpkins. That was really helpful since most of whatâ€™s grown here is corn and soybeans.â€ť
Dillonâ€™s business nets him an average of $1,000 over a single season. Some of that money is literally seed money, used to buy the next yearâ€™s seeds. Dillon said his seeds cost approximately $300 each season. The rest of his earnings are saved for college or for his 4-H projects in which Dillon is also involved.
Dillon said, â€śYou should only grow the pumpkins in the same spot two years at the most. In the third year, they get a disease. I had that happen in my third year. Only a small amount of the pumpkins made it. Now I know to move to a different spot.â€ť
Something else Dillon learned while growing his crop was the turning of the pumpkins. If a pumpkin is picked that is too green, sitting the pumpkin in the sun will turn the shell to a more desirable orange.
Besides the reward of watching his hard work produce a dollar, Dillon said heâ€™s gained some valuable skills.
â€śHaving this business has taught me responsibility and money management,â€ť said Dillon. â€śIt has also taught me how to talk to people and communicate.â€ť
The sign of a sustainable business is measured in the companyâ€™s amount of repeat customers. Dillon said he has regular and loyal customers. One particular customer pre-orders pumpkins each year.
While manning his stand at the Whitley County Farmerâ€™s Market one year, a couple stopped to ask about corn husks. In the process of selling the husks, the woman, who is a fourth grade teacher in the Cleveland area, asked for 30 pumpkins for her class. Now, she makes a call each year to order the small pie pumpkins so that her students can use them in the classroom to illustrate weight and measurements.
Dillon said, â€śMy customers help me out a lot. I wouldnâ€™t have all of this if it wasnâ€™t for them.â€ť
This year Dillon added a business partner, 18 year-old Steven Landrigan. Together the duo grew a giant pumpkin that was entered into the Whitley County Fall Festival Harvest Contest, winning â€śWhitley Countyâ€™s Best.â€ť The pumpkin was estimated to weigh 80 pounds.
â€śI hope to keep doing this as long as I can,â€ť Dillon said. â€śI want to go to Penn State and Iâ€™d like to have enough money saved to pay for the first year of college.â€ť
Dillonâ€™s pumpkins can be purchased Oct. 26 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Northern Heights Fall Festival. To make a purchase at the farm, call 799-4045 for directions.