Every October, people in Smoky Lake howl at all the fall fun and frolic. The festivities aren’t tied to Halloween but to the Giant Pumpkin Fair, one of the largest pumpkin festivals in North America. Sponsored by Alberta Agriculture, the one-day festival, held every October 30, draws thousands of people to the small community. They come for the light-hearted fun, but one thing weighs heavily on some visitors’ minds: each competitor is hopeful that his or her pumpkin will be crowned the heaviest and claim the $1,000 prize.
Pumpkins, whose name comes from the Greek pepon, meaning “large melon,” can grow to over 1,000 pounds. That’s hefty, but, then again, so is Alberta’s share of Canada’s pumpkin market. In fact, Alberta weighs in as Canada’s leading pumpkin producer and processor, harvesting nearly 12,300 acres of pumpkins. That’s 40 per cent more than Prince Edward Island, the second-leading, pumpkin-producing province.
The bulk of Alberta’s pumpkins come from Jacko Farms in Smoky Lake, a small community one hour northeast of Edmonton.
At 28, company president Sarah Jacko became one the province’s youngest high-volume pumpkin producers. That’s not to say, however, that she doesn’t know pumpkins. It’s been more than 30 years since a ten-year-old Sarah and her four younger sisters filled wheelbarrows with pumpkins harvested from the family farm and sold them to passersby.
Today, Jacko and her sisters devote 750 acres of their family’s 1,200-acre farm—12 per cent of Alberta’s pumpkin acreage—to pumpkins. They contract with growers throughout Alberta to produce pumpkins on an additional 750 acres. This year, Jacko Farms sold one million pumpkins to Canada’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which ships them to its stores nationwide.
“The main focus of our business,” says Jacko, “is the next generation. Families love to introduce their children to farm life. Their favourite activity is picking out their own pumpkins.”
She invites people from across the province to experience farm life and farm traditions. Each Halloween, after the pumpkin fair, Jacko Farms becomes a howlin’ Halloween area with a corn maze, a haunted Spook Barn, Nessy the robotic pumpkin monster, unique scarecrow displays, and singing chickens, frogs and skeletons.
More about the Giant Pumpkin Fair
Best known for its pumpkin weigh-off contest, the Giant Pumpkin Fair also includes live music, food, a petting zoo, pony rides, a mini midway and face painting. Admission to the festival is free for children under eight, $5 for children between 8 and 17, and $10 per adult. Half of the monies raised goes to charity. The 24th Annual Great White North Pumpkin Fair and Weigh-Off takes places this weekend, October 5 through October 7, in Smoky Lake, Alberta. To learn more, visit smokylake.ca.
Pumpkins, just for the health of it
Did you know that pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites?
Pumpkins contain betacarotene, an antioxidant your body converts into Vitamin A. Current research suggests that beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and can also help protect against heart disease.
Does size really matter?
Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown in Alberta weighed 1,140 pounds.