Leonardo Urena of Napa won

Leonardo Urena of Napa won his fourth championship at the 27th annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 2. He grew a 1,623-pound beast for the giant pumpkin weigh-off.

A 27-year-old Elk Grove autumn tradition returned on Oct. 2-3. Following last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, the Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival was held at Elk Grove Regional Park this year. The festival theme was “We Missed You.”

Leonardo Urena of Napa won his fourth festival championship and a $7,000 cash prize when his 1,623-pound pumpkin was entered in the festival’s centerpiece, the giant pumpkin and produce weigh-off contest.

He described his winner as a “miracle pumpkin” since he overcame many challenges in growing the boulder-sized fruit such as raising it in a 600-square foot lot. Giant pumpkins are typically raised in lots that are twice that size.

Urena, who typically displays his giant fruits and vegetables at his workplace in the Hudson Ranch Winery, plans to continue his custom of trading away his champion pumpkin’s seeds with other giant pumpkin growers.

“That’s why we’re here to support the event, and this is one of the bets events in Northern California,” Urena told the Citizen. “”We are proud to be here.”

At this year’s festival, his 121-inch gourd also won in the giant produce contest.  

Local parks provider, the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD), organized a downsized  version of the festival in order to prevent large crowds from gathering in small areas. Their staff called off the annual giant pumpkin regatta, which has “skippers” row boats made from giant pumpkin shells in the park’s lake.

Visitors were still treated to live music, children’s attractions, carnival games, and the festival’s traditional scarecrow contest.  Teenage students from the School of Rock’s Elk Grove location performed classics by the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“Maybe next year we’ll go back to normal,” CSD Board President Jim Luttrell said about the festival’s future. “Now, we got a partial festival, and it looks like it’s accepted.

While festival volunteers had to carefully move each giant pumpkin by using a forklift and then lowering them on a scale, other giant fruits and vegetables were displayed for curious onlookers. These contest entries included a 3-pound tomato, a 19-pound cantaloupe, 33-inch long sunflower, and a 207-inch cornstalk.

Jonathan Krull grew many of these winners, including his 161-pound watermelon, at his yard in Herald. He told the Citizen about the challenges of facing high temperatures and thick wildfire smoke this summer. Krull noted that his automatic watering system helped.

“It’s just something that’s fun and constructive to do,” he said about entering the festival’s produce contests every year.

Robert Cook, a repeat winner of the festival’s pumpkin regatta, submitted a 435-pound pumpkin to the weigh-off contest this year. He typically races pumpkins that he grew at his Stockton home, but this year wasn’t his time to shine in the regatta.

“I would’ve rode that sucker,” Cook lamented about his giant pumpkin this year. “I would have probably fit in and out of that sucker.”

What’s his key to growing giant pumpkins?

“Retire so you can work on them,” Cook said.