Let it grow: ‘Elsa’ wins Stillwater Harvest Fest’s giant pumpkin competition

Let it grow: ‘Elsa’ wins Stillwater Harvest Fest’s giant pumpkin competition

It was a big day in the St. Croix River Valley on Saturday, as hundreds of people gathered for the Stillwater Harvest Fest to see a variety of pumpkins — different shapes, colors and sizes — compete against each other, the most important ranking being weight.

A crowd formed around the pumpkin-weighing area in downtown Stillwater, and with each of the 40-odd gargantuan gourds came laughs, cheers and joy.

Barbara Sawyer, of Illinois, and her husband had come to the festival six years ago and wanted to experience it again this year while visiting family.

“We came again because we had so much fun,” Barbara said. “I like the whole thing about agriculture, growing things.”

One grower, Bev Anderson, presented her pumpkin nicknamed “Tiger Kitty,” inspired by the 2020 North America and Minnesota state record pumpkin, “Tiger King,” which weighed 2,350 pounds and took its name from the Netflix hit series.

Bev Anderson celebrates her pumpkin in the weigh-off event at the Harvest Fest in Stillwater, Minn. on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Emily Urfer / Pioneer Press)

Anderson was competing with her husband, Don Anderson. Bev’s pumpkin weighed in at 1,540.5 pounds. Then came time for Don to weigh his.

“I need to get 1,539 if I want to eat tonight,” Don said, joking to the crowd.

“Cross your fingers, say a prayer and throw a pumpkin over your shoulder,” said event announcer Chris Brown, as Don’s pumpkin was placed on the scale.

It became apparent that Don, in fact, wouldn’t eat tonight. His pumpkin came in weighing 1,638.5, a personal best for him.

“I got bragging rights in our patch for another year,” Don said.

Bev bought a frozen pizza, which she said she planed to share with her husband.

Don’s personal record will help improve future pumpkins, contest enthusiast Jacob Maristany, said.

Maristany and his wife, Carolyn, of Crystal, have been coming to the Harvest Fest for five years now. They recalled how when they first started coming, their young daughters would sit on the pumpkins.

“We just come to see big pumpkins,” Carolyn said.

Later, another grower, Dan Thompson, got ready to weigh his pumpkin. As the scale read 1,691 pounds, his friends cheered and took photos.

Next came Chris Qualley, a former Minnesota state record holder whose pumpkin weighed 1,918 pounds during his first year growing. Qualley also used seed from the Tiger King, which was grown by Travis Gienger, a horticulture instructor from Anoka.

(Gienger wasn’t as lucky this year: The pumpkin he had hoped to enter split apart because its wall was too thin. He ended up submitting a smaller pumpkin that was only about 400 pounds.)

Qualley was leading the competition, which was sponsored by the St. Croix Growers Association, with his pumpkin weighing 1,846.5 pounds. Then came Jake Johnson of Benson, Minn., whose previous personal best was 1,887 pounds.

Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-10, made his pumpkin, “Elsa,” named after the princess in the Disney film “Frozen,” look small. Nonetheless, Elsa came in at first place, weighing 1,966.5 pounds and winning Johnson the $5,000 prize.

“I’m on Cloud 9. It’s exciting,” Johnson said.

Pumpkins participating in the weigh-off event at the Harvest Fest in Stillwater, Minn. on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Emily Urfer / Pioneer Press)

Johnson, who’s been growing for more than eight years, didn’t expect to win, and was in fact, aiming to get a spot in the top three.

Brown, the announcer, said to the crowd, “Pumpkins are 90 percent water and 10 percent magic.”

Despite the summer’s record-breaking drought, the water still got to Johnson’s pumpkins.

“Growing season went really well,” he said. “Other than it being a drought, it was actually a perfect year to grow a big pumpkin. It was warm. And I can always add water to the garden rather than take water away. Everything fell into place. A lot of its luck.”

The record for the heaviest pumpkin in the world was set last month by Stefano Cutrupi, an Italian farmer whose pumpkin weighed 2,703 pounds. Growers in Stillwater are looking to beat him next year.

“When you’re talking giant pumpkins, it just, it makes the world smile. Everybody loves to see them,” Brown said.

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