HALF MOON BAY – A repeat champion pumpkin farmer from Minnesota set a new world record with his massive entry at the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay Monday morning.
Growers from across the country arrived on Main Street for the 50th annual competition, hoping to take home thousands of dollars in cash prize and potentially set a new world record.
Defending champion Travis Gienger's leviathan 2,560-pound mega-gourd set a new North American record and handily won in 2022. Gienger's latest behemoth -- nicknamed "Michael Jordan" after the Chicago Bulls basketball great -- was even bigger, tipping the scales at 2,749 pounds.
Using forklifts and special harnesses, the gargantuan gourds were carefully placed on a 5-ton capacity, industrial-strength digital scale under the watchful eye of officials from the San Mateo County Agricultural Commissioner's Office of Weights, Sealers, and Measures. Half Moon Bay's Weigh-Off serves as an officially sanctioned Great Pumpkin Commonwealth site.
Gienger, who drove his winning pumpkin out from his farm in Anoka, Minnesota, delivered a gourd that was more than 7.5 feet wide and barely fit on the event's scale. He will receive $30,000 for setting the new world record.
In second place at 2,497 pounds was Ron Root and Nick Kennedy of Citrus Heights, who will take home $3,000 in prize money. Third place went to Leonardo Urena of Napa, who won $2,500 for his 1,893-pound pumpkin.
"The only thing you have to do is to see a child light up when the first time they see one of these giants," said Gary Miller, a longtime competitor who has worked on perfecting the process of growing a prize-winning pumpkin from his property in Napa.
Miller won the competition in 2013 with a 1,985-pound pumpkin. He hopes this year is another successful run with what he considers the best shaped pumpkin he has ever grown. The competition has come a long way in five decades from a local winner growing a pumpkin around 130 pounds to Gienger's 2022 champion gourd. That grower also set a new record for North America but came under the current world record from Italy of 2,703 pounds, set in 2021.
"If you can control the weather, you can control the size of your pumpkins usually," Miller told KPIX last week ahead of the contest.
He uses tarps, sprinklers, blankets, Styrofoam, and a fan to help keep the pumpkins healthy and at their best ahead of any competition. Miller says the approach developed over so many years makes his pumpkins better from one fall to the next.
"If you grow organically, and everything you put on it is organic, you're bettering the soil," he said.
The pumpkin he brought to Half Moon Bay this year lives up to the storylines of children's classic. A fairy godmother couldn't do better with her wand in his estimation.
"This is the kind of pumpkin when you go to the pumpkin patch, you're trying to find the perfect pumpkin, this would be in that category," he told KPIX. "You could imagine carving this one out and Cinderella getting in to go to the ball."
In the end, Miller's pumpkin came in ninth place in the contest at 1,519 pounds, earning the farmer a $1,000 price.
For more information about this weekend's 51st annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival is available at the festival website.
Shawn Chitnis contributed to this report.
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