Farmer Converts Fields to Grow Gourds

C.L. Arnsdorff of Turkey Branch Gourds

C.L. Arnsdorff and his wife, Willene, used to keep the typical sort of farm you might expect to see in rural Georgia.  They grew fields full of soybeans and corn.  They had plenty of acres for raising cattle, hogs and goats.  They lived in a tidy rancher surrounded by level acreage, with stands of trees to break up the fields, and a dusty road running back toward town.  The purple martins helped by eating insects that might want to bother the crops.  A few gourd houses offered the large swallows a home.

One day, their friend Charlotte Durrence convinced the Arnsdorffs to start growing a few gourds to supply her interest in decorative gourd art.  These cousins to the squash and pumpkin aren't nearly as tasty, but they've long been used to make household items like bowls and utensils.  In recent decades, most Americans only used gourds to make bird houses to attract purple martins.  The Arndsorffs' Turkey Branch Gourds farm started with a few short dipper gourds 15 years ago, and eventually expanded to 25 different varieties.  Because of Durrence's expertise and influence in the world of gourd art, this farm has seen the demand for the niche crop grow and grow.  Aside from the large garden area with a generous stand of corn, the farm is mostly devoted to acre after acre of gourds.

Arnsdorff says the transition from conventional to niche farming has been worth it, "It's pretty profitable, a lot more than planting corn and soybeans."  That's not to say gourd farming would work for everybody.  Arnsdorff is very knowledgable about the proper growing and drying conditions for the gourds.  The ornamental vegetables must dry on long raised tables, directly under the sun, for a period of time before going into a dry, airy barn.  Arnsdorff is also involved in cleaning out some of the gourds and cutting them to create bowls.  Precautions must be taken to keep from inhaling the dusty innards of a dried gourd, as that can be very dangerous.  Arnsdorff  never opens up a gourd without proper covering for his nose and mouth.

Gourd art classes and enthusiast groups come from all over to pick the perfect specimen from the wide variety of sizes and shapes.  "They'll come here and go through these gourds, like, man, they hadn't even seen a gourd before," exclaims Arnsdorff with wide eyes.  Interest in gourds has expanded from bird houses and bowls to a wide range of art projects.

The gourds that look dusty and dirty during the drying process get a good scrubbing before artists start applying paint or other media.  Willene Arnsdorff gifted our family with this gorgous decorative gourd "apple" that she learned from Durrence how to decorate.  They also gave my girls each their own gourds to decorate at home.

Willene Arnsdorff of Turkey Branch Gourds
You can contact Turkey Branch Gourds about homegrown raw materials for your art projects at

Meet the Southern women who helped turn gourd crafting into an artform!

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