City slickers send pumpkins to country pigs

‘Tis the season for pumpkin spice, a flavor that seems to infiltrate everything from coffee to cocktails to candles.

We aren’t the only ones who rediscover the allure of pumpkins every fall. Pigs love ’em, too. Right now, Philadelphians are donating hundreds of pumpkins to an animal sanctuary in upstate Pennsylvania, so rescue pigs can enjoy the fruits of the season too.

Donating pumpkins for the benefit of pigs is not unusual, but it normally occurs in rural farming regions. The Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Mehoopany, just north of Wilkes-Barre, has made inroads in enlisting the help of Philadelphia residents and the post-Halloween crop of pumpkins slumping on their stoops.

The accidental relationship yields several hundred city pumpkins, shipped 150 miles north.

“This is the flyer we put up in Queen Village,” said Lucia Kubik, a registered nurse and board member of Indraloka who lives in the Philadelphia neighborhood with her boyfriend, Steve Levy.

The flyer asks neighbors to donate leftover Halloween pumpkins, so long as they are neither carved nor painted. It gives a cell number and asks people to text the location of their unwanted pumpkins.

She and Levy first posted the flyer three years ago, expecting to glean a dozen or so pumpkins from their neighborhood.

“We posted this thing and neglected to put the date or location on there,” said Levy. “Somebody with good intentions posted it online, and it went viral. Lucia started getting over 1,000 texts from Texas, Colorado, Washington state. Obviously, we couldn’t pick them up.”

Limiting the collection to Philadelphia, this year they arranged 200 pickups around the city, loading pumpkins up in the back of their Prius and storing them in the postage-stamp backyard of their rowhome. They expect to get more than 400 pumpkins in all, requiring a rented box truck to transport them upstate.

Most of the texts they receive are anonymous, and the pickups end up being no-shows. Others are more enthusiastic, gathering pumpkins from their neighbors into one, large load.

Pigs win, squirrels lose

As she cleaned up after her neighborhood’s fall festival in Queen Village, Sandy Kowelski was looking at a dozen leftover pumpkins — and the mess they would make once the squirrels descend.

“I noticed the squirrels have been crazy for them this year,” she said.

Kowelski, who discovered the flyer in a coffee shop, realized that if she moved quickly, she could get the pumpkins picked up by Indraloka before they went bad.

“I actually went online and thought I would take them myself,” said Kowelski. “It was so far away. I called and said, ‘I don’t understand if this would be worth it.’”

It takes about three hours to drive from Philadelphia to Indraloka. Even with best intentions, Kowelski will likely never meet the end-users of her old pumpkins.

About 300 animals roam Indraloka, including horses, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and a dozen pigs. Each has been rescued from neglect, cruelty, or slaughter. At the sanctuary, they will live out their natural lives on 30 acres of open land.

Some of the pigs were found after bolting from a moving vehicle headed to a slaughtering facility. One of the farm’s stars is Eddie Traffic, whose heroic story became the subject of a short film, “Truckin’: The Story of Eddie Traffic” that has screened in film festivals.

Indraloka was started in 2005 by Indra Lahiri, a dedicated animal lover. Since then she has learned that rescued animals can be used for educational and therapeutic purposes. The farm has created programs for visitors — particularly children who have suffered trauma — to interact with the animals one-on-one.

“We discovered that kids who have been traumatized in ways that adults just can’t reach them, are really helped by the animals,” she said. “The same is true for the animals. Sometimes they come in so shattered in spirit that adult humans can’t help them — they are too frightened — but they are not frightened by kids.”

Swine and dine

Pumpkins are a high point of the fall season for pigs. They naturally forage for gourds and squash in autumn, so when a 10-, 15-, or 20-pound pumpkin sails over the fence, they’re in hog heaven.

“It’s really one of the most wonderful sights to behold,” said Lahiri. “You know those big pumpkins with thick skins that are hard to cut?

“Throw one of those into a field with large farm pigs – they are about 1,000 pounds – and they can bite into it with powerful jaws and open it right up. They hold it down with one of their hooves while they eat all the insides out first, then eat the shell last.

“And they smile and smile and smile the whole time,” she added.

Indraloka launches a “Pumpkins for Pigs” campaign every year, online, but actually all of the animals like pumpkins — except for the horses.

Lahiri expects the campaign to yield about 1,000 pumpkins this year. Most will come from pumpkin farmers around Mehoopany with end-of-season surpluses. Almost half of them will come from residents of Philadelphia.

“It grew, and took wings we didn’t realize would sprout,” said Lahiri. “It’s a challenge to have enough volunteers to gather the pumpkins, and have a truck big enough to transport them. We’re asking for donations to rent a truck.”

Next year, Indraloka expects to relocate to a new farm triple the size: about 100 acres near Clarks Summit, slightly closer to the city. They hope to attract more visitors there.

“Just take 476 north until it ends,” said Kubik. “Then go a little farther.”

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