Though the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is no longer taking place this year, farmers from across the region are still planning to make their way to the Coastside for the 47th annual World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off set for Monday at Long Branch Farms.
Because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the event south of Half Moon Bay is not open to spectators, but it will be live-streamed on the event’s Facebook page.
Tim Beeman, the CEO of Miramar Events, which manages both the festival and weigh-off, said decisions had to be made early because the growers who participate usually plant their seeds around mid-April. Beeman reached out to the growers to see if they were still interested in coming for the competition, and when the enthusiasm was evident among growers, the organizers made the decision to proceed with a different sort of weigh-off.
“We decided this would be one event we could do because we could limit capacity,” Beeman said. “We could do all the things needed to be done given the world that we’re in.”
It’s certainly a break from tradition to move the weigh-off from public spectacle at the I.D.E.S. Hall on Main Street to a more secluded location. But one way or another, the tradition is carrying on. Beeman said preregistration numbers are similar to last year, maybe even slightly up. And they are coming from far and wide. Josiah Brandt, of Rudolph, Wisconsin, runner up in 2018, is planning on competing.
There is a grand prize of $30,000 up for grabs if any grower manages to break the record for the world’s heaviest pumpkin. The current record is held by Mathias Willemijns, of Belgium, who weighed a 2,624-pound pumpkin on Oct. 9, 2016, at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship in Ludwigsburg, Germany. Last year’s Half Moon Bay winner and two-time champion Leonardo Urena, of Napa, weighed his gourd at 2,175 pounds, a California record.
Another Napa competitor is Garry Miller, who won in 2013 with a 1,985-pound pumpkin, a then-event record. Miller said many growers are looking forward to the event because it resembles a large friendly gathering — just as it does every year.
“After a while, the people that keep coming every year become close friends, and you can’t wait to see them,” Miller said.
For those media and event staff in attendance at Long Branch Farms on Monday, certain restrictions will be in place due to the pandemic. To follow orders from the San Mateo County Health Department, face masks and social distancing will be required for participants and event staff. Each grower can have a maximum of four family members or assistants, including the grower.
The winner will receive $7 per pound. Second place gets $3,000, third gets $2,500, fourth $2,000, with fifth through 10th place receiving $1,000 each. Other special $1,000 prizes include the biggest California Pumpkin, Biggest Coastside Pumpkin, and the Most Beautiful Pumpkin.
While this year’s event is sure to look different than the previous 46 weigh-offs, Beeman believes the spirit of the event will still be felt by all in attendance.
“This is such a fantastic story every year and it’s become such a tradition in the Bay Area,” Beeman said. “This is going to give people something to feel good about.”