With shorter days and autumn rains signaling the end of summer, many Juneau gardeners are winding down their activities in preparation for winter.
For local gardener Brenda Krauss, however, the growing season is not yet over. Behind Krauss’ home, a tangled mass of vines stretches from one end of the garden to the other. She pulled a few leaves aside to reveal round golden pumpkins resting on the ground. The hidden treasures of her pumpkin patch will continue to grow for several more weeks.
Krauss is not alone in her enthusiasm for pumpkin-growing in Juneau. This summer, a group of master gardeners piloted a project to grow pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes in the City and Borough of Juneau’s greenhouse near Dimond Park in Mendenhall Valley. Several of these pumpkins will make their debut at the Great Pumpkin Festival to be held in late October.
The festival is a grassroots effort is being organized by Krauss and a diverse group of dedicated volunteers who are looking to create a family-friendly event that celebrates the whole growing season.
“We have the Southeast Alaska State Fair in Haines in July and the annual Juneau Food Festival in August, but people can still grow garlic, artichokes, pumpkins, and different types of squash long after these events are over,” Krauss said.
The pumpkin festival is a late harvest fair that Krauss envisions as an opportunity for community members to get together and see what people are growing in town.
“Eventually, we want this festival to become more of a local fair,” she said. “For now, though, we’re starting small.” Gardeners and local producers are invited to bring in their vegetables and enter them in a contest for the largest garden crop or vegetable. The contests will use the same official judging criteria as the Alaska State Fair.
“The categories are very forgiving. Entries don’t have to be market quality. They just have to be grown in Southeast Alaska,” Krauss said. “This was a bad year for anything that fruited on the vine, so if you want, you can just bring in the vine.”
At the festival, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities will be available to monitor the weights and measures of all entries to ensure fairness in judging. The volunteer committee is currently looking anyone who is able to loan scales that are legal for trade to be used at the event.
Other festival activities include a pie-eating contest and a “veg head” category for contestants to transform vegetables into artistic creations. Cash prizes will be offered for winners of the “Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off” and the “pumpkin culinary” contest for pumpkin or winter-squash inspired dishes.
“All of the ingredients can be store-bought, but the major ingredient must be pumpkin or winter squash,” Krauss said. “The entry has to be made from scratch.”
Interest in the pumpkin festival has been high so far with more than 85 people registering for the contests. Krauss hopes that more people will sign up to participate, volunteer, or to just to come out and have a good time.
“The event will also be a great venue for performing groups, food and garden presentations, and poster board displays from community youth groups that promote cooking and locally grown foods,” said Krauss.
The festival organizers and volunteers hold regular meetings 3:30-5 p.m. on Saturdays at the Mendenhall Public Library. Interested volunteers, potential sponsors, participants, and vendors are welcome to attend the meetings. “This will be a community event for everyone to get together, share experiences, and maybe be inspired to try growing pumpkins and winter squash next year,” said Krauss.
The one-day family friendly event will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, 350 Whittier St. Entries for the culinary contest are to be entered the day of the event on from 8-10 a.m. Participants in the vegetable contest need to bring their entries to the JACC the day before the event on from 1-6 p.m.
• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer based in Juneau. Contact her at email@example.com