Where do America’s pumpkins come from?

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Pumpkins are grown in almost every state, but weather conditions in Illinois are part of the reason why the state produces so much, said Mac Condill, owner of Great Pumpkin Patch in Moultrie County, Ill.

“Pumpkins like hot, dry weather, and generally in the Midwest, we’ll get it,” Condill said. “We also have very well drained soil. And so it helps pumpkins – they don’t like wet feet.

Statewide, farmers in Illinois have planted more than 20 square miles of pumpkins, according to the 2017 Agricultural Census, the most recent available.

And while the state produces a lot of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, it is particularly known for producing the smaller, sweet variety known as sugar pumpkins, traditionally used for pies. According to data from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Illinois planted nearly 8 square miles of sugar pumpkins this year, far more than the half-square mile planted by second-largest Texas.

The 2017 USDA Census shows that only five counties in Illinois – Mason, Tazewell, Stark, Peoria and Woodford counties – account for 60% of the state’s pumpkin patch.

There have been a few reports of a pumpkin shortage and higher prices across the country, but Raghela Scavuzzo, executive director of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said those reports are overestimated.

“There won’t be a great shortage of pumpkins, but we are facing a decent year,” she said. “We don’t have a glut, but we have enough pumpkins to get you out. You don’t need to panic to buy.

Scavuzzo said overall labor shortages have caused supply chain issues on shipping containers and cans, as well as manufacturing delays, which could push prices up.

“What we’re seeing is a delay, but you don’t see it here in Illinois.”

Morton, Illinois, a village in Tazewell County about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, takes particular pride in pumpkin production. Leigh Ann Brown, executive director of the Morton Chamber of Commerce, said the village is home to a factory Libby’s, a food brand owned by Nestle that sells canned fruits and vegetables, among other products. Brown said the plant produces 85 percent of the canned pumpkin sold in the United States.

“We are technically known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World,” Brown said, adding that former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson gave Morton that title in 1978. Tazewell County has planted nearly 5 , 2 square miles of pumpkins this year, according to FSA data, and Brown said much of the canned pumpkins are obtained within an hour of the plant.

Hilary Long, vice president of sales and marketing for Frey Farms, one of the state’s largest pumpkin producers, said the internet is driving pumpkin trends.

“Social media has changed the habits of consumers in all aspects of everything,” she said.

Black futsu pumpkins can be found in a box at Frey Farms in Keenes, Illinois.Courtesy of Frey Farms

Colorful and unique pumpkins are popular this year, Long said, along with white pumpkins. And growers have followed the trend, diversifying their crops and producing decorative gourds alongside those intended for the oven.

More than 1.5 square miles of white “ghost” pumpkins were planted this year, nearly five times the amount planted in 2009, according to FSA data. Most of the nation’s ghost pumpkins are grown in Illinois.

Outside of Illinois, farmers import varieties from all over the world in the same way that wineries specialize in certain types of wine because of their region and climate.

Mammoth pumpkins are sourced from places like North Carolina, while mini pumpkins are grown in states like Washington, Indiana, and Texas.

One of the major producers of mini pumpkins is Skagit County, Washington. Just north of Seattle, the county has planted more than half a square mile of mini pumpkins, according to FSA data.

Eddie Gordon, co-owner of a farm there, said the fall decor has been popular for a long time, but with platforms like Instagram the intensity has increased. Consumers are now looking for the most unusual pumpkins to complement their fall decor.

He said everything from the color to the length of the stem makes the pumpkin poles stand out.

“The more dramatic they are, the better,” he said.

“They should look like Rembrandt paintings.”


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