Pumpkins are synonymous with fall, so it seemed appropriate cooler temperatures and fall-like weather welcomed the 19th annual Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival in downtown Elkin Saturday.
While the wet rainy day may have kept large crowds away, there still were a good number of people who ventured out on the town to peruse vendor booths, get some good food, and get a look at the giant pumpkins, watermelons, squash and gourds brought in for the great weigh-in.
And whether it was their first time at the festival or they’d been coming every year since its opening, visitors, vendors, organizers and farmers weren’t letting the wet weather deter them from having a good day.
During the morning hours the parking lot beside The Liberty building was filled with those wanting to see if another state record would be broken in the pumpkin weigh-in as it was during last year’s event. Pumpkin-growing experts prior to Saturday’s festival said the hot, dry weather of this year’s summer was not good for growing the mammoth fruit, but the weigh-in didn’t disappointed as two more than 1,000 pound pumpkins were weighed.
The $1,000 winning entry, grown by Jason Terry of Oneida, Tennessee, came in at 1,318 pounds, less than 100 pounds shy of last year’s 1,404-pound North Carolina record pumpkin grown by Danny Vester. Records are awarded to the state the pumpkin is grown in, and Terry had a Tennessee state record weighed in at 1,577 pounds on Aug. 29 at an official weigh-in in Alabama.
This year was Terry’s first time presenting a pumpkin at the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival. “I’d always wanted to come, but the pumpkins can be hard to get to the scales so I never had the opportunity,” said the grower who has been in the giant pumpkin growing business for two years.
His father, Bruce, and brother, Jeremy, also grow giant pumpkins and joined Terry at the Elkin festival.
Emcee and pumpkin grower Robert Burchette said Vester had an unfortunate year and lost all of his pumpkins this season. But a seed given by Vester to first-time grower H.C. Williams of Bailey in Wilson County weighed in Saturday at 1,024 pounds. Burchette said only four people have grown pumpkins more than 1,000 pounds in North Carolina, and Vester and Burchette are two of them.
“Danny Vester won last year, and we wanted to get some more interest up down our way. He asked me if I wanted to grow some, and he gave the seeds,” said Williams, who added jokingly, “I first told him my wife would, but she backed out.”
His wife, Bettie, joking back, said, “But if he wins any money, I’ll spend it for him.”
“It makes me want to grow another one,” said H.C. Williams.
The largest pumpkin wasn’t the only award given in that weigh-in competition. The Howard Dill Award is given each year at the festival for the giant pumpkin which looks the most like a traditional pumpkin. Second-year fruit grower Artie Phillips of Monroe and his family, Becky, Jacob and Levi, won that award for their first pumpkin. Last year, Phillips grew a watermelon, and has another watermelon in the field this year that he’ll be entering in the State Fair in Raleigh.
Giant pumpkins weren’t the only thing weighed in Saturday morning. While the pumpkins were being weighed as the grand finale, Larry and Ann Boyette of Kenly stood protectively over their first-place prize-winning 257-pound watermelon.
“If it holds on we will enter it in the State Fair,” said Ann Boyette of her husband’s watermelon. “We’ve been coming since 2011, and we’ve entered a watermelon every year since 2012.”
She said her husband chose to grow watermelons because it stays too hot in their area of the state for pumpkins. “It is a lot of work to do the watering, fertilizing, putting out insecticides, then when you have a good one on the vine, you have to cull the others so it has room to grow,” she said.
As children in rain coats and rubber boots played around the giant pumpkins sitting on pallets in the parking lot, Olivia Kern of Elkin said she and her family have been attending the festival every year since they moved to the area from Florida, and the rainy weather wasn’t going to keep them away this year.
“It’s something fun to do,” Kern said. “We always look forward to it.”
Allison Tracy, who moved to State Road recently, agreed with Kern.
Visitors to the event included 2016 North Carolina Rhododendron Festival Queen Kellie Pittman of Bakersville and 2015 North Carolina Watermelon Festival Teen Miss Alicia Garland of Bakersville, who won her title for the festival held in Fair Bluff each year. The two attended with Rhododendron Festival manager Bob Hensley.
“[Kellie’s] been looking for more appearances to do than just the 30 some we typically do each year,” said Hensley, noting that Pittman found about the pumpkin festival online and wanted to attend since it’s not far from Charlotte, where she is in college.
The two “royals” took the opportunity to pose in pictures as the pumpkin growers were presented with their official weight at the scale.
While pumpkins were carefully transported from their spots in the parking lot to the scales and back, Burchette kept the crowd engaged with pumpkin-growing facts, such as in their peak growing period the giant fruit can grow 50 pounds a day, and if the pumpkins get too much water toward the end of the growing season, it can cause them to crack, which disqualifies them from weigh-in eligibility.
“Despite the weather, a good crowd came out to the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival,” said Myra Cook, president of the sponsoring Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There are lots of cute children to enjoy the pumpkin patch. We really appreciate the vendors who did brave the weather.”
One of those vendors, Gurney Royall and his family from Meadows of Dan, Virginia, has attended the festival every year since its beginning, bringing their apple butter made from apple pie apples they grow in their property near the Blue Ridge Parkway. The smell of the bubbling pot of cooking apple butter draws visitors to the festival to their booth each year.
Royall said this is only the third time he can recall the festival being rained on. In addition to the pumpkin festival, Royall and his family will be at the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival next weekend and the Autumn Leaves Festival the following weekend.
And in the pumpkin patch, set up under tents on the patio of the former 21 & Main building, children and grown-ups took a break from shopping to paint their own small pumpkin to take home.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.