NAME: Paulette Disbrow
OCCUPATION: Owner of Supreme T-Shirts & Apparel in Garner
CURRENT HOMETOWN: Fuquay-Varina
ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: Washington, D.C.
Not many people spend time growing something other people rarely eat. Fewer people grow things that have a peculiar smell.
Paulette Disbrow grows, among other things on her land between Fuquay-Varina and Lillington — gourds, a fruit that is hardly edible and not very aromatic on the inside. For her purposes, however, gourds are a way to share a creative experience. Disbrow’s Hector’s Creek Specialty Farm is a mini-gourd plantation with all different shapes and sizes. The variety lends itself to a plethora of uses for gourds that may surprise the average person.
Disbrow shares her passion for the oddly shaped fruit...
What is a gourd?
It’s in the same family as a squash, cucumber or pumpkin. People, when they are really young, eat a gourd. I’m never that hungry. They smell bad enough when you cut them open when they’re green that I am never that hungry. People can paint them or stain or do all kinds of things with them. Bird house gourds are very popular. My best selling items are Christmas ornaments made out of egg gourds. They’re called egg gourds because they’re used to sometimes show chickens how to lay eggs.
What got you into the gourd business in the first place?
I started growing them for me. Girls started asking me if they could buy some of my gourds. My farm is small by standards. It’s a big craft thing. You would be amazed at all the things people make from them. It’s all so much art and creativity, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a good community thing. It’s relaxing. I got into it kind of by accident. We had a problem with deer a couple of years ago and a drought so we put the fence up. Someone gave me a free pack of seeds. I planted them and they came up and grew around my wellhouse, and they were so beautiful.
What is a normal day like in the life of a gourd grower?
We don’t do it full-time. My husband does a lot of work when I’m not home. Gourds don’t transplant well but if you put them in a pot you don’t have to disturb the roots. The big ones need a long growing period. Once they come up, I fertilize them. We probably have a thousand of them on our fence now. I pick them and put them in the greenhouse to dry. You have to stay on top of it. We serve a purpose because we feel there’s a need here. We have a project coming up with school children.
What do you like most about growing gourds?
I don’t know, there’s just something about it. There’s something about watching a plant grow and reward you. Gourds are so different. They cross-pollinate and you end up with some very unusual things. Almost any gourd grower will tell you there’s something about just watching it grow. It’s one of those things where you either really like it or you don’t. Gourds will send a message when they’re done growing. It feeds that internal thing I’ve always had about growing things. It also feeds the crafting. Every year people come looking for me. I enjoy it all. Seeing someone buy something that I planted, grew, picked and crafted is rewarding.
What advice would give to someone looking to get into the gourd business?
Go do the research and learn it first. I made my share of mistakes. The biggest thing is you have to do it right. We put a lot effort into it. We get a substantial harvest for what we plant. I run out of birdhouse gourds. It’s a very popular gourd.
What do you like about sharing your passion with others?
It empowers people to think that they can do this. They look at artistic things and think that they can never do this. I take it down to a level where it’s ‘yes, you can.’ The main goal is to show people how things get done. You get lumber from Lowe’s but it doesn’t just show up there. Same with eggs at Food Lion. It’s educational. I teach three or four classes a year. We like showing people all the different things you can make from gourds.
What is the hardest part about raising gourds?
Bugs, especially squash beetles and stink bugs. Some of the gourds are really heavy. I bring bushel baskets for the smaller ones, but some of them can weigh a lot. We had one that weighed 200 pounds. When you dry them out, they don’t weigh anything. It’s rewarding. I’m helping school kids and they have a lot of fun. They make their own Christmas ornaments and that’s nice. They almost embarrass me because they’re so appreciative.
What is the most unique thing you’ve made from a gourd?
At a competition last year, there was a fantasy animal category. I made a Goober. It was half chicken, half pig. I won second place. It was lots of fun. The year before I made a Septopus. They deducted points from me because it only had seven legs, but that’s what a septopus is. They thought I dropped the gourd and its leg broke off. They penalized me so I told them that septo means seven. A couple of the judges were teachers and I didn’t understand why they didn’t know that. I like being able to be so silly with it.
— Interview by Eliot Duke