Original Published on Sep 25, 2022 at 10:56
Pumpkin season in full swing in Norfolk County, Ontario
By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Being the place that produces the most pumpkins in Canada, Norfolk County gets into the Halloween spirit a bit early.
Five weeks before little ghosts and goblins hit the streets, future jack-o’-lanterns are being hauled out of farmers’ fields at a frenetic pace.
It’s par for the course in a county known as Canada’s largest pumpkin patch.
Norfolk has been tops for pumpkin production since at least 2011, when the Statistics Canada Census of Agriculture recorded 1,795 acres of pumpkins grown in Norfolk’s sandy, loamy soil.
Ten years later that acreage has exploded, with the 2021 farm census revealing 42 farms in Norfolk grew 4,393 acres of the sturdy orange crop.
To put that in perspective, there were 11,569 acres of pumpkins grown in all of Canada last year on nearly 2,600 farms, meaning a relative handful of Norfolk farmers produced 38 per cent of the national harvest.
The top producer is Scotlynn Sweetpac Growers, a Vittoria-based multinational that picks millions of pumpkins in Norfolk destined for large grocery chains and small markets throughout the United States and Canada.
Other pumpkin farms ship their crop to wholesalers and greenhouses, supply restaurants and manufacturers looking to purée or pickle local produce, or sell directly to customers.
After some worries over the dry spring and unusually persistent weeds, farmer Keara Gallant said her pumpkin crop is looking good as October nears.
“At the beginning of the year it was a little bit hesitant, because we had a lot of dry weather and we didn’t irrigate right away. But it seemed to come alive,” said Gallant.
“Some of our specialty pumpkins are hurting, but the Halloween-type pumpkins, the orange pumpkins, they’re thriving.”
The Gallants grow 22 acres of pumpkins, with 15 varieties on offer at the family’s roadside stand on Highway 24 between Waterford and Simcoe.
Presleys Pumpkin Patch — named after Keara and Kevin’s eight-year-old daughter, Presley — is open seven days a week with self-serve and pick-your-own options, along with a corn maze for the kids.
Gallant said they have no plans to raise their prices due to inflation, wanting to keep the pumpkin-buying experience affordable for families.
The most prodigious pumpkins grown in Norfolk are not for sale. These gigantic gourds are displayed at the Norfolk County Fair and Horse Show in early October, where growers can earn big bucks and bragging rights.
Pumpkins are so ubiquitous in Norfolk that Waterford’s fall festival is named after the colourful crop. Waterford Pumpkinfest returns for its 40th year Oct. 14 to 16 with live music, a parade, midway rides and the high school football Pumpkin Bowl.
Thousands of carved pumpkins from Presleys will end up on front porches throughout the region. But last year, as trick-or-treaters started making the rounds, the Gallants realized that amid the frenzy of the harvest they had forgotten to set aside a jack-o’-lantern for themselves.
“It was Halloween night and we were carving out a pumpkin. And I felt so bad,” Gallant said.
This year, Gallant promised Presley the family would decorate well before Halloween. Sure enough, there are already a couple of pumpkins outside their front door, waiting to be carved.
For people buying pumpkins early, Gallant suggests they follow her lead and leave them outside and uncarved, ideally in a shady spot.
“The nights are starting to get colder, so I think we’re OK just having them outside,” she said.