Local pumpkin harvest strong despite national decline


Julie Koehn/The Daily Iowan
UI sophomore Oscar Trinidad (left) and UI junior Rachel Sager pick out a pumpkin at Wilson's Orchard in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009.
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Consumers may notice cans of pumpkin-pie mix are out of stock or that an average, ripe-for-carving pumpkin has become pricier. That seems to be the case on the East Coast and some parts of the Midwest, but in Iowa, the shortage is not quite so apparent.

“We keep getting bin after bin,” said Kirkwood freshman Beau Cahill, a produce clerk at the Hy-Vee East, 812 S. First Ave., who noted that he has seen neither a drop in prices nor a decline of supply.

After a wet and mild summer, pumpkin planters across the country are scrambling to save what is left of this year’s weak harvest. An Oct. 1 National Public Radio podcast said pumpkin harvests in Eastern states such as Maine are down 50 percent from last year. Other states, such as Ohio and Minnesota, were also affected by the lack of a balanced mix of heat and moisture.

Local pumpkin growers are better off than their Eastern colleagues, but they were not immune to the cool summer.

“We had enough moisture, but more heat would have made them grow quicker,” said Paul Rasch, the owner of Wilson’s Orchard, 2924 Orchard Lane N.E.

Although the orchard lost its entire stock of pumpkins and apples because of last year’s flood, this season’s harvest has not amounted to huge losses for the establishment. Rasch’s clientele mostly consists of families and is reliant on farm retail.

Rasch’s pumpkin crop is down between 15 to 20 percent this season. He said that while the harvest has been adequate, this year’s pumpkins are more expensive than average.

Some farmers, though, are fighting the elements. To combat potential frost damage to his crops’ aesthetics, Kevin Shima, the proprietor of Shima Pumpkin Patch, 4080 Highway 382 N.E., Solon, covers his crop with insulated blankets.

“The biggest pain we run into is these low overnight temperatures,” he said. Like Rasch, he has lost 10 to 20 percent of his harvest, but he has kept prices the same in an effort to please customers. He said the pumpkins’ quality is just as good as any other year.

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