George Perry Sr. loved the Manteca Pumpkin Fair.
You might figure that was the case for a man who parlayed rented crop acreage in 1958 at Southland Road and Cottage Avenue northwest of Manteca into the West Coast’s large distributor of pumpkins and melons.
But the Pumpkin Fair represented much more to Perry that just a salute to his livelihood — it is about family, friends, and Halloween’s answer to Christmas trees.
“Pumpkins are to Halloween for kids like fir trees are to Christmas,” Perry said in an interview with the Bulletin 15 years ago. “It’s wonderful how they (pumpkins) can get kids excited and make them smile.”
Perry also was among the Manteca pumpkin growers that helped launch the predecessor to the Sunrise Kiwanis Pumpkin Fair.
So it was only fitting Tuesday that the Manteca City Council honor the life of the man affectionately known as “The Pumpkin King” when they gathered for their twice-a-month meeting just days before downtown streets will be filled with more than 30,000 people over two days celebrating everything pumpkin. The resolution was presented to the family of George Perry Sr. who passed away in June at the age of 99.
Pumpkins grown in the Manteca area accounted for 78 percent of California’s overall pumpkin production in 2016 — 75,400 tons from 3,370 acres. The wholesale value was pegged at $28.3 million or 1.3 percent of San Joaquin County’s annual ag production of $2.3 billion.
Most of those pumpkins are shipped by Perry & Sons with trucks rumbling out of downtown Manteca after being weighed at their scales on South Grant Avenue less than a block from the heart of the city at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
California, by the way, is the second top producing pumpkin state. Based on 2014 statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture, Illinois produced 745 million pounds of pumpkins, 288 percent more than the Golden State’s output that year.
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.
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 led in part by Perry to start an informal “pumpkin fair” for a few hours one October Saturday at Library Park. It consisted of a few 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. Under the tutelage of the Sunrise Kiwanis for the past 33 years, the Pumpkin Fair will have raised over $1 million since 1984 for non-profits.
The pumpkin growers staged the Pumpkin Fair for several years before handing it off to the now-defunct Manteca Jaycees. This is actually the 45th year there’s been an event known as “the Pumpkin Fair” in Manteca.
This year’s festival is Saturday, Oct. 7, and Sunday, Oct., 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day in downtown Manteca.
The Pumpkin Fair carnival starts on Thursday, Oct. 5, at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley at the 120 Bypass and Union Road. Hours on Oct. 5 are 5 to 10 p.m. The carnival is also open Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 7, from noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 8, from noon to 10 p.m.