GAYS MILLS - Eureka!! There’s gold in them thar fields, and in them thar gardens, and on them thar lawns and porches, and in them stores, and in your coffee if you choose to have it there. Pumpkins are, and pumpkin is, everywhere. Pumpkin is so common this time of year that we can’t help but be aware of pumpkins and most of us don’t think about them that much. But, I have a few thoughts to share.
To start with, we happen to live across the road from champion pumpkin growers. John Barlow and his wife Merri are known far and wide for the giant pumpkins they grow every year. In the specialized niche and very competitive category of gardening for giantness, the Barlows stand out. John and Merri have carved out a track record that is the envy of many other growers that like the challenge of producing something for the sheer size of it. This year, the Barlows produced a whopper pumpkin that topped the scales at 1,971.5 pounds. Put that baby in the back of a ¾ ton pickup (if you could that is, John uses a flatbed) and that truck is overloaded! With one piece of fruit! Or actually, one vegetable as pumpkins are usually called.
Pumpkins are a cultivar of squash, they occupy a specialized branch of the squash family tree - make that vine. All pumpkins are winter squash, meaning they develop a thick rind and store well. Our neighbor to the south, Illinois, is the number one state in pumpkin production for human consumption. If you buy a can of processed pumpkin, a pound of Libby’s as it were, chances are that it came from the Land of Lincoln; they produce 85 percent of the U.S. supply.
A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal from the UW Extension Office reported the following facts about pumpkins:
• The average American consumes 5.39 pounds of pumpkin per year.
• U.S farmers grew 90,000 acres of pumpkins in 2014.
• In the top five pumpkin producing states, the average yield was 11 tons per acre. (about 11 of the Barlow Behemoths per acre! Or 2200 ‘normal’ 10- pounders).
• The average price farmers received for this bounteous yield was $.11 per pound.
• Only about 15 percent of the pumpkins produced in the U.S. are used for human consumption.
So, in other words, 85percent of the pumpkins we grow are just for show or decoration, or the occasional punkin chunkin’ event, during a brief seasonal window. On some level, that bothers me a bit. I appreciate the fall look as much as the next fellow, but in a hungry world it seems like quite a waste. Some pumpkins are fed to livestock and poultry, but many of them wind up rotting away where they grew or in a compost bin. I’d like to see the lowly and beautiful golden globes serve a higher purpose somehow.
Pumpkin is a quality food, healthy and nutritious, low in fat, high in Vitamin A and a good source of energy. One of the best parts of a pumpkin are the seeds and they are worth the trouble to sort them out and roast them. Pumpkin is one of three seasonal foods that deserve a bigger and year-round clientele, the others being cranberries and sweet potatoes. As a kid, the only time I saw these three great foods was from Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Make sure you get your 5.39 pounds of pumpkin this year, and maybe a little more.