Monks offer Encinitas a creative Halloween treat


The monks at the Self-Realization Fellowship on Coast Highway 101 have carved out a reputation for more than meditation.

Every year, about 25 monks grow, pick and etch elaborate designs into pumpkins. Their skilled decorations will be lit up and showcased as part of Safe Trick or Treat from 5 to 8 p.m. Halloween night, Oct. 31, in front of the Fellowship and a few other spots along Coast Highway 101.

The tradition, which began some 25 years ago, is the monks’ way of giving back to the community.

“My favorite part is the feeling in the air, where the kids and parents are having so much fun together looking at the pumpkins,” monk Brahmachari Luca said.

It all begins in June, when the monks plant pumpkin seeds in a plot overlooking the ocean on Vulcan Avenue and Cornish Drive. They dutifully tend them for months, picking the pumpkins in September and hauling them back to the Fellowship grounds in trucks.

“The pumpkins can weigh up to 80 pounds,” Luca said. “We need two or three people a lot of times to carry them.”

Come next week, they’ll spend hours carving each intricate detail into the pumpkins. It’s an art that demands plenty of time and patience, Luca said.

To give carvers a template to follow, monks on Tuesday busily traced designs onto the pumpkins with felt-tip pens. One portrayed The Beatles, another Marvel superheroes. Others depicted Halloween monsters. And then there was Jabba the Hutt — two pumpkins stacked atop each other.

“We always try and change it up, depending on what’s popular that year,” Luca said.

The pumpkins were once composted after the event at a hog farm, but now they go to families who want them.

“We realized these are pieces of art that take a lot of work and should be enjoyed,” he said. “It’s a good feeling when they take them home.”

This year’s harvest, around 130 pumpkins, was fairly meager compared with prior years because of the drought and fewer people lending a hand. Going forward, the Fellowship plans to dedicate more monks to growing pumpkins in hopes of boosting the yield. That way, more could be donated to local schools, Luca said.

The monks also grow fruits and vegetables a stone’s throw east of the pumpkins. That produce goes to the Fellowship’s headquarters in Los Angeles, though the monks would like to increase production in the future so they can provide food locally for those in need.

In years past, the Fellowship, an international spiritual organization that’s been at K Street since 1937, hosted a larger Halloween celebration inside its grounds that drew more than 10,000 people. However, that ended in 2001 because the crowds threatened to overwhelm the location.

Over the past couple of years, 2,000 to 3,000 people have gathered outside the Fellowship for the event.

Although less busy, the event remains a local favorite, said Dody Crawford, executive director of Encinitas 101 Mainstreet.

“It’s so heartwarming that they do this,” Crawford said. “So many families really enjoy it.”

Encinitas 101 is hosting Safe Trick or Treat downtown, with the pumpkins being the main draw. Another major part is the Queen’s Court, near the Fellowship bookstore. This features a queen and her loyal subjects handing out candy and listening to kids’ wishes.

In addition to pumpkins in front of the fellowship and just north, they’ll also be placed at the Encinitas 101 office and the Smog Test Only Center, which is at F Street and Coast Highway 101.

Luca explained that the monks are responsible for the pumpkins in addition to their spiritual studies and meditation. He added that the pumpkins are but one way the monks help out the community.

“We are very focused on meditation and developing our spiritual side,” he said. “At the same time, we do have another side that’s focused on community service.”

Even monks who aren’t artistically inclined pick up a carving knife.

“Monks who think they’re not very artistic, they end up carving beautiful pumpkins,” Luca said. “Everyone has some creativity in them that comes out. It’s what I love about it.”

So what first inspired the monks’ penchant for pumpkin growing?

Luca said that historically, the Fellowship grew pumpkins and the monks made the connection that the community would enjoy them.

“Pumpkins and Halloween go hand in hand — it was a way to bring the community together,” he said.