World championship pumpkin weigh-off was worth the ‘weight’


Kiana George

Leonardo Urena poses for the press after his pumpkin secures first place.

The 46th Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off brought together 27 of the top pumpkin growers in the West Coast to compete in the battle of the biggest gourds. 

On Oct. 14, hundreds of people gathered to watch the 46th annual weigh-off. The event was accompanied by cornhole games for kids, festive country music by Jim Stevens, and loud trumpets from the local Cougar band. 

“Going up on stage with my grandpa, grandma, and my sister-in-law and seeing the excitement of the crowd cheering for us was my favorite part of the event,” said Lorenzo Bianchi, the grandson of a competitor in the weigh-off.

On occasion, the pumpkin weigh-off is referred to as the “Super Bowl of Weigh-offs” because it draws so many fans.

But for the pumpkin growers, the event isn’t all fun and games. The significant monetary prize has even fueled some competitors to try to cheat.

The Growth Pumpkin Commonwealth Organization (GPC) creates national standards and oversees all pumpkin growers and weigh-offs. The GPC also outlines strict rules, some of which were created in response to past scandals.

“Some folks 20 years ago filled a pumpkin with water,” farmer Brant Bordsen said. “That’s why the weigh-off now has the rule that there can be no hole going through the center of the pumpkin, no matter the size.”

Bordsen has competed in the pumpkin weigh-off for the past 20 years. This year, he grew a 1557-pound pumpkin that formed a crack during the growing process. Unfortunately, Bordsen was disqualified because the rules state that a pumpkin cannot have a split deeper than three inches.

Pumpkin growers prepare up to five months to a year before the actual event. Some even refer to it as a second job, as they spend a minimum of one hour a day preparing their gourds for success. Each grower has secret techniques for coaxing their pumpkin to grow to its fullest potential.

“Every day, I go and talk to my pumpkin, pray with her, and get through the day with spirits. It takes a lot of nurturing to grow a pumpkin,” said farmer John Muller, who grew an 881-pound white pumpkin named Kona Moon. 

Muller won the prize for the Biggest Coast Side Pumpkin. One of the growers he competed against was his wife, Eda Muller. The couple owns Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm and Daylight Farms and the Heirloom Seed Store in Half Moon Bay.

Cindy Tobeck from Washington won the contest in 2016. This year, Tobeck said she had to use “MacGyver tactics” to keep her pumpkin growing because it had turned upside down. If she had flipped it over, it would have pulled off the stem.

Breaking the record for Californian pumpkins was Leonardo Urena, a pumpkin hobbyist from Napa, California, who won the contest with his massive 2175-pound gourd. 

With the 14th largest pumpkin in the world, Urena won $7 per pound, or a total of $15,225. He started growing pumpkins as a hobby in 2000 and also won the weigh-off in 2011.

However, for Urena, the win was much more than a state record.

“This is my first pumpkin over 2,000 pounds, I’m so excited,” Urena said. “I worked so hard. I’m going to use the money to pay for my kids’ college tuition.”

This year, Safeway offered a super prize of $30,000 if any grower was able to break the world record. The world record, held by Mathia Willemijn in Germany with his 2,624-pound pumpkin, remains unbroken as of right now.

Although the 2019 pumpkin weigh-off has concluded, many eagerly look forward to next year’s competition.

“I’ll definitely be back next year. I am ready to improve my technique and come back next year for the win,” Borsen said.