Pumpkin Capital, USA


In: Texas Times Column   Posted 10/28/2016
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With Halloween right around the corner, orange jack-o-lanterns are popping up on porches across Texas.  
 
But did you know some pumpkins naturally grow pink, blue, green, white, or red? 
 
You’ll find all different sizes, shapes, and colors harvested in Floydada, Texas each year – a town of 3,000 near Lubbock that has claimed the title ‘Pumpkin Capital, USA.’
 
Rumor has it the name stems from the first time Europeans stepped foot in current-day Floydada.  The Santa Fe expedition passing through scared the natives, who immediately scattered, leaving behind only a pile of ripe pumpkins and allowing the explorers to discover the sweet taste of the gourd.
The first pumpkin seeds were planted in Floydada more than a century later by B.A. “Uncle Slim” Robertson.  Uncle Slim sold his crop to his neighbors after each fall harvest, and responding to rising demand, soon began shipping his gourds all the way to Dallas.  Other Floydada families followed suit and traded out their cotton fields for pumpkin patches. 
 
Sixty years later, the name has likely stuck because Floyd County, with its population of just over 6,000, produces more than one million pumpkins each year. 
 
Pumpkin growing there is truly a labor of love.  Because most of Floydada’s gourds are grown for fall decoration and not the cannery, each one must be hand-picked to avoid getting scratched.  When you consider that some of the ‘Big Mac’ variety pumpkins top 100 pounds, September harvest becomes that much more impressive.  Even the more common ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ variety weigh in between 12 and 25 pounds each.  All in all, farmers in Floyd County hand-pick 10-15 million pounds of pumpkins each fall. 
 
Even beyond the physical demand, a fruitful pumpkin harvest is no easy feat. 
 
This year, an unusual weather pattern led Assiter Punkin Ranch owner Tim Assiter to worry about the quality of his crop.  Heavy rain in late spring drowned the fields at peak planting time.  Then, an especially dry heat in July threatened to inhibit pollination.  Later, another set of downpours right at harvest prevented farmers from picking the gourds for 12 full days past the ideal time.
 
Luckily, despite a tough growing season, Pumpkin Capital, USA didn’t disappoint this year.
 
The annual Floydada ‘Punkin Days’ Festival falls on the 2nd Saturday of October each year and coincides with the day the harvest is loaded on trucks to be shipped across Texas – and to customers in 17 other states.  The Festival, centered around – you guessed it – pumpkins, offers pumpkin bowling, carving contests, and pie-eating and seed-spitting competitions. This year visitors from all over the country found a crop as plump, colorful, and decorative as ever.
 
My recommendation is to put the Floydada Punkin Days Festival on your calendar for next year – and show up hungry.