When Debbie Perry’s grandfather Jack DiMeglio started selling Christmas trees outside of his New York grocery store in the early 1900s, he had no idea that he would begin a family tradition that would be passed down through four generations.
“I love it,” said Perry, the third generation matriarch of the family’s pumpkin and Christmas tree empire and owner of Debbie and Jeff’s Pumpkin Patch. “It’s seasonal work and it gets me outside and I enjoy the whole holiday.”
The California tradition of holiday sales began when her mother and father moved to California when they were in their mid 20s.
“My father fished in the summer and did pumpkins and trees in the winter,” said Perry. “They sold them outside of his gas station.”
Her mother, 90-year-old Ann DiMeglio sold trees with her husband for 50 years after moving to California when she was 24.
“It was nice,” DiMeglio said about selling holiday horticulture, adding that they owned land in Oregon where they grew the Christmas trees. “I don’t go up there anymore, it’s too cold. But I worked with the trees for 20 years.”
Now, Perry – who grew up in the South Bay – has been selling pumpkins and Christmas trees for 33 years at her Hermosa Beach pumpkin patch.
“I originally had a patch with my brother, and it was ‘Debbie and Mike’s’, then my first husband, Greg, and now it’s ‘Debbie and Jeff’s,’” said Perry, who said she also sold pumpkins in an empty lot where the Hotel Hermosa now stands. “Now my kids have ‘The Great Pumpkin Patch’ in Torrance. It’s a family affair.”
Her current patch, located on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and 21st Street, offers more than just picking pumpkins. She also has a petting zoo that includes a chicken named Sugar as well as a pig, goat and two bunnies.
“It’s family-friendly and as close to picking your own in a field as you can get,” Perry said. “You get to enjoy the animals and get great pictures. And it’s not carnival-like or scary.”
Selling pumpkins and Christmas trees and seeing the children’s faces are some of the best parts of owning a pumpkin patch and Christmas tree lot, Perry said.
“But some of my fondest memories are when we started out and picked 20 tons of pumpkins a day and would come down to unload them and do it again the next day at 3 a.m.,” said Perry. “It was a great way to lose weight.”
Five years ago her pumpkins were smashed and her pig was stolen overnight.
“We never got the pig back,” said Perry, who said that the holiday season continued and was still fun despite the destroyed pumpkins.
Perry and her crew of family and friends cut trees themselves from their own Christmas tree farm in Oregon and pick pumpkins from friends and growers in the San Ynez area. Debbie and Jeff’s has a wide variety of pumpkins including carving pumpkins and the massive “Big Mac” pumpkin. She also has angel wing gourds, a Boston sugar that she said is great for cooking, as well as pumpkins called ‘fairy tales,’ and ‘Cinderella’s.’
“It’s great because I have second generations of kids coming here,” said Perry, who said her favorite part is interacting with the families. “Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t give it up.”