MOORHEAD - Clay County collected 49,000 pounds of pumpkins that lit up hundreds of front porches last Halloween, and residents are again encouraged to recycle the gourds by taking part in the fourth annual "Take Back Jack" program.

During the first couple of weeks in November, designated jack-o'-lantern drop-off locations throughout the county, including five in Moorhead, will accept pumpkins for composting.

The goal, said Clay County solid waste director Kirk Rosenberger, is to keep the pumpkins out of the landfill.

Recycled pumpkins will end up at Doubting Thomas Farms, a fifth-generation organic farm north of Moorhead. The pumpkins are used to make compost that grows oats - a tradition since 1878 - as well as fresh produce served at Prairie Roots Co-Op in Fargo and local restaurants like Luna, BernBaum's and the HoDo.

Local 4-H'ers also analyze the compost pile and study the microbiology of pumpkins. But "the home run of it all," said farmer Noreen Thomas, is that homeless youth use the compost in growing their own gardens in the summer. Doubting Thomas partners with Churches United for the Homeless to provide each kid with a raised bed where they can grow strawberries, tomatoes and other produce.

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"It's very community-driven. It's amazing," Thomas said.

West Fargo and Fargo don't have special pumpkin composting programs, but pumpkins can be disposed of at sites where residents typically drop off yard waste.

"We want to encourage residents to bring all their composting to the compost site," said West Fargo sanitation manager Tom Clark. "This time of year, there's always a huge influx of yard waste. Obviously we get a lot more picking up on the curb, and it's just not good."

Clark said organic waste doesn't belong in a landfill. Instead West Fargo uses Fargo's compost site on 45th Street to combat that influx.

Residents can find a list of yard waste compost sites on city websites for Fargo and West Fargo. The pumpkin drop-off locations for Moorhead are:

• 700 15th Ave. N. (public works facility)

• 707 Main Ave. S.E. (youth hockey arena)

• 23rd St. S. and 40th Ave. S. (Southside Regional Park)

• 418 Elm St. S. (Woodlawn Park)

• 809 58th Ave. N. (Oakport compost site)

Containers for the Take Back Jack program will be available at the sites from Wednesday, Nov. 1, until Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Residents are asked to remove candles from pumpkins, and pumpkins should not be dropped off in plastic bags. Painted pumpkins are problematic for the composting process.

Visit Clay County Solid Waste for more information.