RICHMOND—With pumpkin patches and jack-o’-lanterns signaling fall’s return, October is the time to celebrate the growers who make it all possible.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared October Virginia Pumpkin Month. The observance commemorates those who cultivate and harvest pumpkins and the value of that Virginia crop, which generated $11.9 million in 2022 from 4,200 acres of fresh market pumpkins.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Virginia has consistently ranked among the top six pumpkin-producing states, growing an average of about 175,000 pounds per acre. In 2021, Virginia produced about 100 million pounds of pumpkins—the same amount as high-ranking Michigan and Texas.
Pumpkin purchases benefit all Virginians by supporting agriculture—the largest economic industry in the state. Pick-your-own pumpkin ventures offer family-friendly experiences that showcase Virginia farms. And the marketing of pumpkins and related fall crops through festivals and direct sales provides an additional income stream for many farmers.
Pumpkins are harvested in October and November. Virginia’s range of elevations, soils and climate types provides ideal growing conditions for pumpkins—something more farmers are recognizing. Nearly 400 commercial pumpkin producers are operating today, double the amount of farmers in 2018.
Some are taking advantage of Virginia’s climate to grow specialty pumpkins—a trending favorite among consumers. In addition to adorning porches with carved orange pumpkins around Halloween, many consumers incorporate specialty pumpkins with varying colors, shapes and sizes into their fall décor through Thanksgiving.
Acknowledging this trend, researchers in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been exploring ways to extend the shelf life of specialty pumpkin and gourd varieties that are suited to production in Virginia. The ongoing project is made possible with USDA grant funding.
Beyond adding visual splendor, pumpkins have been appreciated for their delicious taste for centuries—driving consumer demand even today, as pumpkin spice beverages and pastries emerge in bakeries and grocery stores during the fall. It is thought that the modern pumpkin pie originated with American colonists who baked pumpkins filled with milk, spices and honey over hot ashes, according to University of Illinois Extension.
Pumpkins also serve as an excellent source of Vitamin A and contain carotenoids that may be good for health, according to Virginia Cooperative Extension.
To find locally grown pumpkins near you, visit the Virginia Grown website at vdacs.virginia.gov/vagrown/.