Carol Froese has beaten breast cancer, but she never has stopped fighting it.

Her weapon of choice is a pink pumpkin.

Froese, a 15-year survivor of breast cancer, stumbled on a variety that came to be known as the porcelain doll nearly a decade ago in a Colorado field.

A partner in Colorado Seeds Inc., a family-owned business in La Junta, Colo., she said she spotted the anomalous plant with Kevin Skaling, a buyer and president of Yuma, Ariz.-based DP Seeds.

Colorado Seeds, which was launched in the early 1990s by working with seedless watermelons and moved into hard squash, pumpkins, summer squash, tomatoes and other melons, cultivated the seed, and Skaling has become a major distributor.

Froese says she has no problems related to breast cancer today, but her zeal to eradicate the disease has morphed into a lifetime passion.

In 2012, she started the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation in Rocky Ford, Colo., with a mission to raise funds to find a cure for breast cancer based on the sales of porcelain doll pumkins.

The foundation oversees donations and ensures that the funds go directly to "reputable organizations with the highest percentage of dollars spent on actual research," Froese said.

"We aim to be transparent, with a board that volunteers its time, no paid employees and low administrative costs," she said.

Froese's son, Andrew, who operates an accounting firm in Rocky Ford, said the foundation has no paid employees, has a volunteer board and operates with an overhead around 30%.

"The PPPF over the past couple years has hired a marketing firm to promote the name and foundation, as well as an accounting firm to provide bookkeeping services and file the informational tax return," Andrew Froese said.

Donations generally are received between October and December, he said.

It started with a single pumpkin that caught Froese's attention.

"When we saw we had this pink pumpkin, Kevin and he made some comment on this pink pumpkin in the field, and the ball started rolling," Froese said. "I thought this would be a good way to maybe to combine awareness of breast cancer and maybe highlighting this pink pumpkin."

Colorado Seeds further developed the pink pumpkin. Now, it's an autumn symbol of a war an industry is waging against breast cancer.

Skaling, who is not involved with the foundation but has supported it since its start, said his company distributes around 1 million porcelain doll seeds yearly.

"I think it's been very effective," he said. "They have grants and have done a very good job of putting out the word and giving the money away. They keep nothing."

The foundation gets support from across the agriculture industry, including small-scale pumpkin growers and 76 chapters of the FFA, which used to be called the Future Farmers of America.

"We're finding a niche in the farm-market type growers and also with FFA people," she said.

The foundation provides FFA organizations seeds. The student groups grow pumpkins and sell them and give a portion of the proceeds to the foundation, Froese said.

Small growers - "the ones that are farmers for fruit stands" - also are key to the fundraising, she said.

But, she said, porcelain doll pumpkins also turn up in bigger retailers.

"We have some of it that shows up in your Wal-Marts and King Soopers, so, definitely the industry is helping in doing that,' she said.

Foundation grants support numerous efforts to find a cure.

"Grants we've had over the last couple of years have gone to smaller research people," she said. "My philosophy is, we don't know who's going to come up with that one treatment or therapy or one bit of information that leads to a cure. Whatever money is raised is helpful, so whatever the industry can do to get information out is important."

Froese's experience makes this fight personal, she said.

"Part of it is you have to be hit with it personally, and then it becomes a passion," she said. "You don't wish that on anybody, but like a lot of things, when it has hit somebody, you're ready to move forward and do what needs to be done."

 
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