Of Buckeyes & Pumpkins

Kitty McConnell

Autumn may bring crisp air and cool nights, but it's the hottest season on Mary Williamson's pumpkin farm.

Hidden Creek Farms in Sunbury grows and sells fresh vegetables, including tomatoes, green beans and onions, but the summer growing season lacks autumn's festivity. The pumpkins, squash and Indian corn draw more foot traffic than any of her other crops. Families and school field trippers come for the pumpkins and stay for the seasonal entertainment. "Our farm is all decorated," says Williamson.

Hidden Creek is one of many Central Ohio farms that double as fall amusement attractions, thanks to what is arguably the most entertaining produce in America: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are fun (Jack-o-lanterns!) and delicious (pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin ice cream, just to name a few). But did you know that Ohio farmers consistently produce more pumpkins than nearly every other state in the nation?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national vegetable report released in January, Ohio has ranked among the top four pumpkin producing states in the nation since at least 2009. The value of Ohio's harvests averaged $18.6 million annually over the last three years, and accounted for 10.5 percent of the U.S. total in 2011.

Pumpkins can be a challenging crop. "You don't just plant them and let them go," says Williamson. This year's weather was especially hard on the harvest. Heat and drought yield smaller pumpkins, a threat to profits since pumpkins are typically sold by the pound. "We're very fortunate because we have a good irrigation system," she says.

That extra water on the farm's 8 to 9 acres of pumpkins minimized disruption to business. The Macaluso Fruit Company in Grandview Heights distributes Hidden Creek pumpkins to large grocery chains such as Giant Eagle. Williamson says she also fielded requests from smaller farms and markets seeking to buy carving pumpkins. The overall impact of the tough growing season will be quantified when the USDA reports new numbers in 2013.

Reprinted from the November 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.