After living in Half Moon Bay for 11 years, I’ve become accustomed to the pumpkin season. Here in the “World Pumpkin Capital,” farmers’ fields have gradually turned more orange over the past couple of months, and there are pumpkins everywhere. Thousands are stacked by color and type in patches throughout the Coastside, and cars full of pumpkin-pickers stream over the hill daily, causing traffic snarls to rival the worst commute nightmares.
Many who attend the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival claim it to be the best pumpkin season event in the area, but even though I don’t attend the festival every year, I know enough to disagree. For me, the best event this time of year is the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.
The weigh-off is held the Monday before festival weekend, so while I was working in corporate-world, I couldn’t attend. But once I started freelancing, it was one of the first assignments I gave myself. I had no idea the funky morning competition would immediately become my favorite.
Smaller pumpkins begin the weigh-off at 7 a.m., while it’s still dark outside. Pick-up trucks weighed down with giant gourds line Johnston Street behind the I.D.E.S. Hall, waiting their turn. It’s not long before a parade of forklifts, each with a huge pumpkin, line up to drive to the stage and place each pumpkin on the scale.
It takes a lot of effort to “place” those gigantic pumpkins. Teams of men are required to get the pumpkins off the forklifts to the scale and back to the forklifts again. It’s always the same guys every year. One day in June, I’ll be walking down Main Street and see someone I think I know, but can’t place how I know him. Later, I’ll realize he’s a “forklift guy” at the weigh-off. I know he does more with his life, but that’s how I identify him.
In between all the moving of gourds, there’s a guitar player on stage, singing songs about Half Moon Bay. A master of ceremonies is always telling jokes he hears from the kids in the audience. The high school band plays tunes from Friday night football games. And neighbors mill around, drinking coffee and catching up—stopping only for the next announcement of how much a pumpkin weighs.
This year, the great pumpkin weighed 1,704 pounds, beating both Half Moon Bay and California records. Grown in Napa, at least it was a California pumpkin, as well.
Whether the grand champion each year bests a local, state, or world record doesn’t matter as much. Sure, for a moment, the crowd may cheer more loudly. But hanging out on a Monday morning in a surfing farm town to watch a sweet farming ritual where the stars are monstrous orange pumpkins is worth marking on my calendar every year.