For most Americans, fall is synonymous with pumpkins. Some are used to make delicious soups and bread, while others get carved into spooky jack-o'-lanterns. Then there are the select few whose only purpose is to win pumpkin weigh-off contests. There are numerous such competitions held nationwide. However, the most impressive mega gourds typically end up at the "Super Bowl" of pumpkin weigh-offs held annually in Half Moon Bay, CA.
The 50-year-old competition has always been popular with pumpkin growers. But it has become even more so since its sponsor, Safeway, increased the prize money for the ten heaviest pumpkins to $9 per pound in 2015. The company also announced a maximum winnable prize of $30,000. To receive the "World Record Prize," competitors must produce a "World Record Pumpkin." In 2023, that meant one heavier than the current record-holder, a 2,702-pound (1,226 kg) gourd grown in Italy.
On October 9, 2023, Travis Gienger did precisely that with his mega gourd named "Michael Jordan." The enormous fruit weighed an astounding 2,749 pounds (1,246 kg). It was 47 pounds (21 kg) heavier than the previous record-holder.
The horticulture teacher from Anoka, Minnesota, said he named the pumpkin after the basketball phenom because of its shape. "It started out basketball round. And, of course, it's the year '23, [Michael Jordan's jersey number], so great name for it. But then it grew into this. It's kind of funny. It was very orange and pretty right away, and then it kind of expanded into this beast," he explains.
This is the third time the 43-year-old has won at Half Moon Bay. In 2020, he took home $21,150 for his 2,350-pound (1,065 kg) pumpkin named "Tiger King." Following the competition, Gienger carved the fruit and set a new record for the world's heaviest jack-o'-lantern.
His 2022 winning entry dubbed "Maverick" weighed 2,560 pounds (1,161 kg). It broke the American record for the heaviest pumpkin by six pounds (2.72 kg) and earned him $23,040.
"Michael Jordan," along with the three runner-up pumpkins, were displayed at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival on October 14-15, 2023. Following the event, Gienger loaded the massive gourd onto his truck and began the 35-hour trek back to Anoka. The master pumpkin grower also announced plans to transform the world record holder into "something very impressive."
Resources: Kron4.com, cbsnews.com, weighoff.miramarevents.com