Half Moon Bay likes to claim they’re the pumpkin capital of the world.
That’s stretching the truth a bit. Unless you’re into 800-pound monster pumpkins that you need a crane to move, Half Moon Bay isn’t where the action is at. It’s Manteca.
Some 2,700 acres around Manteca in 2017 produced 47,400 tons of pumpkins with a wholesale value of $16.9 million. That’s 88 percent of all pumpkins commercially grown in California. It is also 1.6 percent of the national production of 750,000 tons in 2017 based on United States Department of Agriculture statistics
Manteca, though, doesn’t hold a candle to Illinois, where a whopping 745.8 million pounds of pumpkins were harvested in 2015 (the last year figures were available) compared to 192.2 million pounds for Ohio, 105 million pounds of Pennsylvania, 97 million pounds for Michigan, and 69 million pounds for New York.
The big difference between Illinois and Manteca is what the pumpkins are grown for. Nearly 90 percent of the Illinois crop is processed for pumpkin products such as pie filling, pumpkin seeds and such. Manteca’s entire crop is grown as ornamental produce.
Longtime Manteca grower George Perry likes to say a fresh pumpkin is to Halloween what a fresh evergreen tree is to Christmas.
So based on end use, Manteca is the undisputed largest pumpkin growing area in the United States — if not the world — for purely ornamental purposes with the fruit being shipped throughout California, Nevada Arizona and even to Oregon.
And while Manteca can’t compete with Half Moon Bay for size — the winner of the annual weigh in in 2017 set a world record of 2.363 pounds — it leaves Half Moon Bay in the dust for tonnage. Besides, the gigantic pumpkins in Half Moon Bay are rarely grown there. The 2017 record holder was from Sumner, Washington.
Given what comes from the fields around Manteca, you can understand why local growers were a bit miffed back in the 1970s when Half Moon Bay first proclaimed itself the pumpkin capital of the world.
That prompted Manteca farmers to start an informal “pumpkin fair” for a few hours at Library Park that consisted of some kids’ games, a belly dancer that first year, bales of hay and a small mountain of pumpkins. They also openly challenged Half Moon Bay’s claim. That led to the “friendly feud” between the two communities being a featured cover story in People magazine.
That original event ultimately made orange the color of money for Manteca non-profits.
Thanks to the Manteca Pumpkin Fair staged by the Sunrise Kiwanis nearly $700,000 has gone to non-profits from money the service club has generated since taking over the fair 35 years ago. That’s in addition to money estimated at $350,000 that other non-profits have raised at their own booths over the years at the festival that takes place the first weekend in October.
The pumpkin growers staged the Pumpkin Fair for several years before handing it off to the now-defunct Manteca Jaycees. This is actually the 46th year there’s been an event known as “the Pumpkin Fair” in Manteca.
This year’s festival is Saturday, Oct. 6, and Sunday, Oct., 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day in downtown Manteca.
There is community and main stage entertainment both days, a haunted house, free pumpkin games for kids, as well as vendors and food trucks. On Saturday at dusk the Sunrise Kiwanis well stage a free showing of the movie “Hocus Pocus” at Wilson Park across from the library. There is a car show on Sunday.
The carnival takes place today through Sunday in the parking lot at JC Penney at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley at the 120 Bypass and Union Road.
Information on vendor booths for the two-day event that typically lures more than 30,000 people is available by going to www.sunrisekiwanis.org
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com