While the number of entries was down this year, the weights were up at the 15th-annual Rainy River Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival.
Only 16 pumpkins were entered, down from last year’s 28, but that was to be expected after the terrible growing season this year.
However, last year’s winning weight was just 467 pounds, grown by event organizer Eltjo Wiersema.
Wiersema had another decent pumpkin this year, weighing in at 403 pounds, which had him atop the leaderboard with six pumpkins left to weigh.
Of those six, three stood out above the rest.
Juane Johnson of Clearbrook, Mn. looked like he was going to win it all at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. But with less than 30 minutes left to register, three-time champion Ben Johnson and his wife, Lesley, arrived from Kakabeka Falls— each with a big pumpkin.
As it turned out, Ben’s would be the biggest this year at 773 pounds.
Juane Johnson came second at 645 pounds, with Lesley Johnson in third (601 pounds).
Ben Johnson said the winning pumpkin, which earned him the Golden Hoe Award and $1,000 in cash, was grown from the seed of the festival’s record-setting 1,173-pound pumpkin from 2006.
He also noted he had a much larger pumpkin in his patch, but lost it.
“It taped out at over 900 pounds,” Johnson said.
“Ben recently said he never thought as a kid growing pumpkins that he would make money growing them some day,” said his wife, who then joked that she taught him everything he knows about the sport!
Ben Johnson has become quite serious about gardening and is now the Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario rep for Northern Ontario.
The group shares information and seeds on growing giant vegetables, and has a website at www.gvgo.ca
Juane Johnson received $500 for second place while Lesley Johnson earned $100 for third.
Caydence Lundgren, meanwhile, won $100 for having the heaviest pumpkin grown by a junior (337 pounds).
Skylar Arpin won $50 for coming second (151 pounds) while Hayley Arpin pocketed $25 for third (133).
The hidden weight this year was 127 pounds, which was won by Hayley Arpin ($100).
Rookie of the Year went to Wendy Lemmon, who received the cherished Silver Watering Can Award for her 20-pound pumpkin.
•Ugliest Pumpkin—Eltjo Wiersema
•Most Attractive Pumpkin—Wendy Lemmon
•Best Decorated Pumpkin
1. Eleanor Wiersema and Caydence Lundgren
2. Skylar and Hayley Arpin
3. Leah Seguin
•Oddest Overall Vegetable
1st. Skylar and Jackson Arpin
2. Jack Elliott
•Best Pumpkin Pie—Kitty Berube
•Best Pumpkin Dessert—Dorothy Wiersema
•Tallest Sunflower—Kitty Berube.
•Best Sculptured Vegetable—Skylar Arpin
In related news, Rainy River Coun. Marilyn McAlister announced the town beautification award winners.
Most Attractive House and Yard went to Anne Acree while winning for Most Attractive Yard and Vegetable Garden was Elsie Ewald.
Due to the low number of pumpkins, the annual seed-spitting contest was cancelled since no one wanted to sacrifice a pumpkin to use the seeds for fear it might be a prize-winning one down the road!
Overall, organizers were pleased with the turnout by the public and the growers despite the poor growing season.
A special indoor farmers’ market also was held while activities were held for the kids by the local playschool.