CHAIRMAN OF THE GOURD: Local 10-year-old parlays pumpkin plunder into college fund cash

COLUMBIA CITY ­— Dillon Sheiss is not your typical 10-year old. This Northern Heights fifth grader is a CEO of sorts for The Jack Patch, Dillon’s own produce business specializing in a variety of pumpkins and gourds.This is Dillon’s fifth year growing pumpkins. Kelley Sheiss, Dillon’s mother, said his interest in the orange squash took root in Pennsylvania. “We have some friends who live there,” said Kelley. “Dillon 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 what’s grown here is corn and soybeans.”Dillon’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 year’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, “You 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.”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 he’s gained some valuable skills.“Having this business has taught me responsibility and money management,” said Dillon. “It has also taught me how to talk to people and communicate.”The sign of a sustainable business is measured in the company’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 Farmer’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, “My customers help me out a lot. I wouldn’t have all of this if it wasn’t for them.”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 “Whitley County’s Best.” The pumpkin was estimated to weigh 80 pounds. “I hope to keep doing this as long as I can,” Dillon said. “I want to go to Penn State and I’d like to have enough money saved to pay for the first year of college.”Dillon’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.