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Giant Pumpkin Business Growing by Leaps and Pounds

After midnight, where do the big pumpkins go?

What do you do with a 1000-lb. rotten pumpkin?

Carl Stoloski of the Pumpkin Depot knows. Each year at this time, the broker of giant pumpkins buys and sells the giants. I talked with Stoloski at the annual party he throws for the growers the evening before the weigh-in at his pumpkin patch on Highway 1, two miles north of Highway 92.

The business started 10 years ago, Stoloski said, when a farmer in town for the annual weigh-off stopped by the Pumpkin Depot looking to sell his 400-lb. pumpkin. Buying one that large was unheard of at that time.

Stoloski's mother, watching the store, turned the farmer away. When she mentioned it to him later that day, Stoloski jumped in his truck and found the grower in town.

"If I don't get $400 for this pumpkin, my wife is going to kill me," the grower told him.

Stoloski paid the man the money, put the giant in his pumpkin patch and his business doubled overnight. He was the only patch in town with a giant on display.

"When I started this business 10 years ago, 500 lbs. was big. Now a 2000-lb. pumpkin is right around the corner," Stoloski said. "The growers are mad scientists. They spend an insane amount of time and money [growing giant pumpkins]."

There was no market 10 years ago. While they still compete for the prize money, some farmers now grow for the resale market. While they used to grow two or three giants, some will now tend fields of 30 exclusively for Stoloski.

Restaurants, hotels and Las Vegas casinos buy the gourds. Farmer John's pumpkins went the the . Even Steve Jobs bought a few in the past.

Nine years ago, Stoloski received a call from the Bellagio in Las Vegas asking him for ideas for something special in their conservatory besides the paper mache pumpkins they had on display.

They wanted something over the top, Stoloski said.

Stoloski said that he suggested a 500-lb. pumpkin. In response, the Bellagio said "We'll take 2," as he recalls. 

Stoloski loaded the pumpkins up and drove to Vegas. When he rolled up the tailgate of the truck, a crowd gathered in the parking lot, taking pictures. When the buyer arrived in a golf cart, she took one look at the pumpkins and ordered 5 more "as soon as possible,"  Stoloski remembers.

Stotoski has not looked back and his business has grown along with the increasing size of the giants. The growers are a tight-knit group that carefully crossbreed the plants resulting in an ever larger crop, but that is another story.

What about those rotten pumpkins?

Well, the shell is designed to last through the winter and contain everything that is happening inside. The internal meat gradually decays and liquefies and when summer comes, the shell finally gives out, distributing its seeds and what's left of the insides. My wife and I found this out the hard way one summer when returning from vacation to discover the pumpkin we had decoratively displayed on our kitchen counter had ruptured into a heinous smelling puddle. A small disaster in which we lost a wooden knife block.

We still love pumpkins and keep them close at hand — but under a watchful eye.

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