Festival celebrates giant pumpkins
MOUNT VERNON — Jeff Uhlmeyer stood next to his massive pumpkin Saturday at the Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival, explaining the background of the estimated 1,200-pound specimen.
These are all Atlantic Giants, the Tumwater grower said while gesturing to the row of bulbous pumpkins at Christianson’s Nursery and Greenhouse.
Today, nearly every prize-winning pumpkin is a descendant of Howard Dill’s Atlantic Giant, a pumpkin Dill spent 30 years cultivating in Nova Scotia.
Dill’s 493.5-pound pumpkin scored him a world record in 1981, and nearly 40 years later competitive growers have continued his legacy, selectively cross-breeding the seeds into bigger and bigger beasts.
The world record is now held by Mathias Willemijns of Belgium, who grew a 2,624-pound pumpkin in a greenhouse in 2016, and the record for biggest pumpkin grown outside a greenhouse is held by Joel Holland of Sumner at 2,363 pounds.
While this year’s festival didn’t see the likes of any pumpkins cracking the one-ton mark, that didn’t stop kids and parents alike from marveling at the competition.
Dozens crowded around the giants, trying to get the perfect picture, though 2-year-old Charlotte Wagner didn’t seem so sure about being close to pumpkins that big.
“I think she’s a little scared of them,” Bill Wagner said, scooping his daughter into his arms.
Bill, his wife Anne and Charlotte came from Oak Harbor to attend the festival for the first time.
“This isn’t something you see every day,” Anne Wagner said.
As the Wagners continued on their way, another first-time festival-goer, Remy Keener, picked up a big slippery toad that had jumped out of her hands.
The 4-year-old stood beside three other toad racers inside a greenhouse full of games, excitedly coaxing her toad back into its lane.
“My favorite part is holding the toad,” Keener said with a grin.
Outside, Great Pumpkin Commonwealth historian Jack La Rue chatted with the festival’s 2017 winner, Jim Sherwood, as the scent of cinnamon roasted nuts from Absolutely Nuts and scones from The Scone Lady Bakery in La Conner wafted through the air.
Both La Rue and Sherwood are avid growers who have held leadership roles with the commonwealth, a world-wide organization that brings giant pumpkin hobbyists together and establishes the rules of competitive growing.
As they talked, a forklift made its way down the line, as it prepared to hoist a last-minute pumpkin out of a truck bed.