When Stan Soltes came up with the idea of growing pink pumpkins for cancer research, he had no idea how close to home the cause would become.
In November 2012, the south St. Vital resident decided to start his Pink Pumpkins Sales for Breast Cancer campaign, to benefit CancerCare Manitoba this coming October, to coincide with the pink-themed Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Since last month, however, the project has taken on a whole new meaning to Soltes. That’s when his daughter, Debbie, who lives in North Kildonan and originally co-organized the fundraiser with him, was diagnosed with cancer.
"Around the end of June, Debbie became ill and was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour, so this has become a personal story. Debbie has been in Health Sciences Centre since the beginning of July and has had surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy. She’s fighting for her life right now," Soltes said.
"This had made the project extremely personal, so we have to work hard to see it through and make it a success."
Soltes, 75, was inspired by a Minnesota farmer, Bert Bouwman, who has been harvesting thousands of pink pumpkins and donating 25 cents from every pumpkin sold to breast cancer research. He said the first pink pumpkin was discovered by a Colorado farmer in his field several years ago, who then began developing the seed.
Soltes, who bought his seeds from the New England Seed Company in the U.S., has been busy growing his pumpkins in the backyard of his daughter, Sherry, who lives on Forbes Road, south of the Perimeter. His goal is to sell the pumpkins beginning Oct. 3 until Thanksgiving in the parking lot area of St. Vital Centre near the Old Navy store. He has the option of selling for another week in the run-up to Halloween.
"All of the profits will go to breast cancer research. We’re hoping to catch on with the pink fever in October," Soltes said, noting he is also growing butternut squash and spaghetti squash and that Reimer Soils helped him fertilize the soil for the project.
The former garment industry worker, an "avid gardener" who has donated his produce to Winnipeg Harvest in the past and has won the Winnipeg in Bloom contest, has planted around 1,000 pink pumpkin seeds and hopes the inclement spring weather won’t affect his prospective crop.
"There’s no crop yet and we had a terrible spring, when we lost two or three weeks, so they are still at the flowering stage. But once they form, they grow very quickly," Soltes said, noting the flesh inside pink pumpkins is "darker and sweeter and superior for baking items such as muffins and pies."
In terms of pricing, Soltes said he has been advised to charge more for the pumpkins than the average store or vendor because of their uniqueness.
"We’re not going to compete with the stores. We’re hoping people are willing to pay a bit more because they will be supporting cancer research."
Soltes said as his pumpkin sale approaches, organizers at St. Vital Centre will be posting updates at www.stvitalcentre.com