Elk Grove is planning an old-fashioned gourd time this weekend with the Giant Pumpkin Festival.
And that’s not just a name.
The biggest pumpkin at last year’s festival — and the largest recorded pumpkin grown in the state of California — weighed a whopping 2,138 pounds. The enormous pumpkin, grown by Jose Ceja of Napa, fell short of the U.S. and world records — 2,528 and 2,624 pounds respectively. But it’s a new year with a new crop and organizers are hoping they’ll squash the competition.
“Each year they get bigger,” said Jenna Brinkman, communications supervisor with the Cosumnes CSD Parks & Recreation Department.
The festival centers around the giant pumpkin contest, but it’s a harvest festival, too, with pumpkin-themed twists on all the old favorites. There are recipe contests for adults and children (with the youngsters’ competition focused on pumpkin cupcakes), and pumpkin pie eating contests will be held on both days.
Entry in the pie eating contest is free, Brinkman said.
“Who doesn’t love free pie?” she said.
Whipped cream is optional, but using your hands means disqualification.
A scarecrow contest lets creative types unleash their imagination, with past entries including Cruella De Vil and Capt. Jack Sparrow.
Entertainment will include a BMX stunt show, Splat-o-Lantern!, live music, a pumpkin shop and more.
And some of the mid-sized pumpkins — “only” 600 to 1,000 pounds — will be hollowed out and turned into boats for the Sunday morning regatta. After the regatta, the pumpkin boats will be dropped from a great height.
The festival was founded 25 years ago, as Elk Grove began to grow, as a way to bring the community together and celebrate its agricultural roots. A group of pumpkin growers in the area were looking for somewhere to hold a local contest and nationally approved weigh-in, so they wouldn’t have to drive to the Bay Area.
They approached the Cosumnes Community Services District. That organization was already planning a harvest festival, and changed the focus to include the pumpkins.
“It was just a great opportunity to get everyone together and celebrate the season,” Brinkman said.
The first giant pumpkin to win the festival title weighed a whopping 389 pounds, but growers quickly proved they could do much better.
They’ve turned it into a science, Brinkman said, studying fertilizer, growing conditions, weather and soil to determine the best way to grow their gourds.
The festival has grown, too. Organizers estimate that last year’s event drew 60,000 people over two days.
The weigh-off for the massive pumpkins will be held on Saturday morning, and the top 5 will be on display for the entire festival.
Growers from all over the U.S. and even Canada travel to Elk Grove every year. The 2017 winner was from Wisconsin, Brinkman said.
There are weigh-offs all over the country, too, she said, and it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry grow each year.
For the growers, it’s a fun way to have a great time at a community festival, while also showing off their work.
“They’ve taken such great care of these specimens over the past three or four months,” Brinkman said.