Spectators watch the Weiner dog race at a previous Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival. The dog race will happen again at this year’s festival on Oct. 25. [Photo courtesy of Youth Garden Project]

Founded in the backyard of Sarah Heffron in 1996, the Youth Garden Project began by providing an opportunity for youth to serve court-ordered community service hours in an educational outdoor environment. Since then, the Youth Garden Project has expanded to include a number of student and community-wide programs.

Support from those programs comes in part from the Youth Garden Project’s major annual fundraiser, the Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival, which takes place this Saturday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Grand County High Soccer Field. The family event includes live bluegrass music, a Weiner dog race, costume, as well as pie-eating contests, and, of course, the pumpkin chuckin’ contest ― where slingshots, catapults and trebuchets shoot pumpkins as far the teams can manage. Each team builds its own chucker.

“It’s a great fall festival,” Youth Garden Project Executive Director Delite Primus said. “It’s a great time for families, and anyone.”

Festivities include live music performed by Moab singer-songwriter duo Sand and Sunnie Sheff. Running Out Of Road, a bluegrass band from Durango, Colorado, will also perform.

While a few dozen pumpkins are sacrificed for the cause, none go to waste as volunteers collect the pumpkin shards afterward to feed to pigs at local farms.

Six teams, four comprised of Moab middle- and high-school students, and two from San Juan County, will vie for the $250 prize, said Trish Hawkins, YGP board of directors’ vice-president.

The festival is “like a county fair with food vendors, arts and crafts, games, costumes,” Hawkins said.

For much of the year beyond festival season, the group remains active on one-and-a-half acres of land it leases from the Grand County School District at 530 S. 4th E. St., where students of all ages come to learn life skills while working in the garden.

“We use the garden as a classroom,” Primus said. “We get individuals connected to where their food comes from. We’ve had kids try new foods when they’ve been part of growing it.”

Last week, students were harvesting sweet potatoes.

“It was like a big scavenger hunt,” Primus said.

In addition to serving youth programs, the acre and a half grows enough produce to support a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project with 15 shares. The organization also sells vegetables at the Moab Farmers Market and to various restaurants. The harvest is additionally used in schools’ lunch programs.

“All proceeds go to run educational programs for kids,” Hawkins said.

Elementary students visit the garden twice a year and learn about planting, food, health and community. Math and science subjects are also applied in the garden setting.

“It’s fantastic to see the expression on kids’ faces when they eat a tomato fresh off the vine,” Hawkins said.

Grand County High School’s natural resources classes come for hands-on experience once a week, during the spring and fall, according to the YGP web site.

In addition to the farmers market and CSA, the organization also offers community workshops on sustainable agriculture, and, during the summer, a “Weed and Feed” every other Wednesday where volunteers who come to help weed, are fed a meal afterward from food grown in the garden.

“Everybody sits together outside for the meal,” prepared in the organization’s commercial kitchen, Hawkins said.

The site includes 60 garden beds, numerous fruit trees and a Community Nibble Garden, an area planted where community members and passersby are invited to snack on veggies such as peas or tomatoes.

Festival fundraiser supports Youth Garden Project

What: The Youth Garden Project’s 9th annual Pumpkin Chuckin’ Festival

When: Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Grand County High Soccer Field, 400 East and Red Devil Drive

Cost: Adults $10; Youth (3-14 years) $5; Children 2 and under free

Information: www.youthgardenproject.org/pumpkinchuckin/ or 435-259-2326