Out of weeds grows a pumpkin patch | October 8, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 8, 2021

Out of weeds grows a pumpkin patch

Baskin-Robbins owner Seng Kaing creates a 'Hidden Halloween' pop-up patch to build community spirit

by Sue Dremann

In a lot behind the Midtown shopping center usually filled with weeds, a hay-bale circle dedicated to the most supernatural of holidays has taken shape. The rectangular bales encircle a straw and wood "altar" covered with bright orange pumpkins, corn stalks and colorful fall leaves. The display is guarded by a dangling ghost effigy and a pumpkin-headed goblin. A skeleton sprawls between two large pumpkins, resting his bones.

With the vibe of a magical circle fit for a full-moon ritual, this pop-up mini Halloween park could be Palo Alto's own version of Stonehenge.

By daylight, it's a gathering place for families, where children can paint or carve their own pumpkins and visitors of all ages can sit and chat or relax in the warm afternoon sunshine.

The Hidden Halloween is the creation of Baskin-Robbins franchise owner Seng Kaing, his wife, Ivy, and two of their relatives: Kent Chang and Tim Sin. They spent hours clearing the lot and hauling 24 straw bales they'd imported from Half Moon Bay. Pumpkins of all sizes sit on each bale. They aren't yet carved, since it's early in the season, but a few showed the promising signs of a Jack-o-ween to come: fake blood trickled down the smooth orange skin and one was decorated with a blue painted heart.

Kaing, who has owned the Midtown Baskin-Robbins at 2615 Middlefield Road for six years, said the land behind his store has been empty for a long time. He's always wanted to do something with it and this year he received permission from the landlord to set up the Halloween display. It opened about the third week of September.

The pumpkin patch is a labor of love — a means to bring the community together, especially during these hard, COVID-19 times, he said.

"It took a half a day to finish it. Before, people passed by an empty, dirty lot. Now, they pass by and take pictures, get ice cream and enjoy the spot. People say 'thank you' and the kids are happy. Families don't have to go far away.

"With COVID, you don't have to be in a pumpkin patch with a lot of people. You can be in a small family setting and take pictures," he said.

Midtown resident Carrie Manley and some of her neighbors are planning an informal, free gathering on Sunday, Oct. 10, at 4 p.m. for anyone who'd like to join in the Halloween fun of carving a pumpkin, she said.

It's a bring-your-own-pumpkin-carving-equipment event.

"Pumpkin donations, of any size, are welcome. COVID safety is encouraged, so mask up, and know that behind every mask, there's a guaranteed smile," she said in an email.

Manley said she noticed the patch when she saw Kaing and his family weeding the lot and hauling in the hay bales.

"There's something magical about this pop-up pumpkin patch. Every time I walk by, I notice a few more pumpkins perched on the hay bales. I am really grateful to the Baskin-Robbins manager Seng Kaing, and his family, for all their hard work, generosity, and creativity in transforming an empty lot into what I consider to be a perfect pumpkin patch, filled with bales of fun and the Halloween spirit," she said.

Kenichi Hartman and his family discovered the pumpkin patch during a family walk with a friend. Cutting through the alley behind Baskin-Robbins, they were delighted to encounter the display. For his three children, Eabha, 11, Maeve, 10, and Amit, 1, it is their first Halloween. The family just returned from living in Israel for 10 years, and the two older children had only seen Halloween decorations on YouTube, he said.

"This is the girls' first experience with a real Halloween season pumpkin patch," said Hartman, who previously lived in Palo Alto. "It is so wonderful for the community."

The pumpkin patch was recently beset by ghouls, however.?? Twice so far youths have come to destroy the holiday display. The patch was only up for one day when a teen smashed pumpkins. Then, earlier this week a group of teens who were hanging out at the patch decided to smash all of the pumpkins and wreck the display. The vandals were captured on surveillance video.

Kaing said his family felt discouraged and saddened.

"They broke our Halloween signs, smashed the pumpkins, painted on them and took down some of the decorations on the frame," Kaing said. "We wanted to make this year's Halloween fun for the kids, family and the community."

But he is heartened by the community response. After a posting about the incidents on Nextdoor, some neighbors immediately began replenishing the pumpkins and the display.

"The people all work together and they are bringing more together. We feel like we are in a community," he said.

The Halloween pumpkin patch will stay up until at least the end of the month, and perhaps beyond so that the circle of friendships gathered around the hay bales will grow. Kaing said he is so gratified by the community response that he is thinking of ways to keep the community spirit alive. He plans to have a Christmas display later in the season, he said.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2021 at 9:58 am

Bystander is a registered user.

This is a charming idea. I know there has been some vandalism taking place which is not welcome. Thank you for doing this.

I hope that the space can be utilized for other such events in the future when pumpkin season is over.

Posted by Retired Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2021 at 11:17 am

Retired Teacher is a registered user.

I love this sooooo much! Thank you, Seng and family!!! Happy Halloween!

Posted by Walter Underwood
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 8, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Walter Underwood is a registered user.

Do you know why that is an empty, weed-filled spot? Because the new owners of the shopping center chased out the Midtown Community Garden in 2017. It has been empty since then. The previous owners had leased the land for $60/month to the garden. The new owners wanted thousands of dollars per month.

Details are in this story:

Web Link

Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2021 at 7:44 am

Sally-Ann Rudd is a registered user.

I was about to post same as Walter. It wasn't a weed-filled lot, it was a popular and vibrant community garden that was destroyed by the new owners of the shopping center!

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2021 at 8:37 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I remember the community garden and remember the community being very upset when it was forced to close - bulldozed away almost overnight.

The land has not been used for anything since. That is and has been so wrong. I am surprised that the article made little note of the history of this piece of idle land.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:23 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Happy to see Seng and Baskin Robbins create this pumpkin patch for the community. Going to bring my family by for some fall photos this weekend.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2021 at 2:49 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

The Midtown Community Garden lost its corporate sponsor in 2017 and without corporate funding, the garden's organizer did not to renew the lease. In the latter years before its demise, the garden seemed disorganized and mismanaged, with PA police finding people growing illegal opium in the garden and police pursuits that ended with suspects hiding inside the fenced areas.

There were also complaints of occasional homeless camps setup and trash/junk dumping causing a mess and infestations. The new owners then decided to clear out the garden and was looking to turn it into an overflow parking lot with EV charging stations, but then the pandemic hit and those plans were put on hold.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2021 at 3:52 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Very interesting that someone else can use my nom de plume. I was under the impression that the reason we register a name is so that we have unique handles or monikers.

I am not objecting to this, just want it to be said that there are more than one of us registered now.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 9, 2021 at 5:10 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Bystander(s), there's at least one more "Online Name" here albeit from a different neighborhood. Confusing at best.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2021 at 8:10 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Community spirit. Cool.

We have log in accounts so Embarcadero Media knows who we are. The only way to avoid someone trolling your screen name is to use your name.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 14, 2021 at 8:29 am

Bystander is a registered user.

This pumpkin patch has been vandalized at least twice.

Today Nextdoor is full of comments about vandalism due to Paly's infamous Egg Wars which hit at least two parks last night.

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