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Hernando High School students Ainslee Fuller, 15, Mary Gray, 16, Brooke Berry, 15, and Amy Ellis, 15, pick out the perfect pumpkins for a painting project at the CLayton Farms Pumpkin Stand on U.S. Hwy. 51.

Robert Long|DTT

The pumpkins are in — and it looks like this year will be a bumper crop for Clayton Farms, the Cockrum-based farm that produces sweet potatoes, pumpkins and even muscadine grapes sold at the Hernando Farmers Market each Saturday by longtime producer Ronald Clayton.

Clayton, one of the original growers at the award-winning market, which has been ranked as the fifth best in the nation, manages a vegetable farm on more than 225 acres in the Cockrum area, east of Hernando.

Clayton's son Jeff Clayton runs the large pumpkin stand just off U.S. Hwy. 51 North.

"We've had a better pumpkin crop this year than last year," Clayton said. "Last year we had a pumpkin shortage due to the floods."

Clayton said the weather this growing season, wet during the middle part of the summer and extremely dry during the past several weeks, has provided more than a few challenges for pumpkin growers.

"The weather has been fair for pumpkins," said Clayton, adding that the farm gets additional pumpkins from another farmer, located a few miles south of Hernando. "The pumpkins are all in. We've sold a bunch and added a bunch. I bet we've sold about a thousand so far. People are buying them for Halloween parties and we even had a couple with a Halloween-themed wedding. Photographers are buying them for photo sessions."

A group of Hernando High School students decided to purchase several pumpkins from Clayton on Monday, during the observance of the Columbus Day holiday, in order to make a fashion statement of sorts.

"We're going to paint the pumpkins on our day off from school," said Ainslee Fuller, 15, who was joined by her classmates Mary Gray, 16, Brooke Berry, 15, and Amy Ellis, 15. "We tried to pick out the perfect pumpkins."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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