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Pumpkins aren't a SLO County cash crop but farmers still scare up profits during harvest season

Posted at 7:03 AM, Oct 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-24 10:15:02-04

Pumpkins are for many a symbol of the harvest season and while the gourd doesn't account for much of San Luis Obispo County's crop value, this time of year is prime for pumpkin farmers to cash in on their crop.

Even on an 82 degree morning at the Avila Valley Barn, Anne Hilbert and her two boys were in the fall spirit Wednesday as they shopped the more than 50 varieties of pumpkins.

"It's just a local tradition to look at all the different pumpkins and varieties," Hilbert said.

School buses full of young kids pulled up at Avila Valley Barn, which has doing business for 33 years.

"We grow about 200,000 lbs of pumpkins," Avila Valley Barn Chef Jesse Smith said.

Smith's family business has grown over the years and he said his brother, who farms the pumpkins, is able to harvest a number of different varieties used for everything from carving to making pumpkin pies.

At between .49 and .79 cents per pound, Avila Valley Barn stands to rake in some green from the orange gourds.

"I'm thinking on weekends we could see anywhere between 2 to 4 thousand people per weekend," Smith said.

Smith said the family business is more about continuing the tradition of farming than it is about profits, which is a good thing because pumpkins aren't a major crop in San Luis Obispo County.

In the 2018 San Luis Obispo County annual Crop Report, pumpkins were filed along with carrots, melons among three dozen other types of produce under miscellaneous crops for a combined $112.5 million in gross value.

Brookshire Farms Co-Owner Shawn Callaway said despite a solid season of rain, creepy crawlies are causing problems.

According to Callaway, pumpkin production in most areas is slightly down this season.

"This year's been a bit more of a challenge, we've noticed a lot of insects on our pumpkins. we try not spray anything here on Brookshire Farms area," Callaway said.

The hay rides, duck races, and pie sales are essential supplements to what Callaway calls the agri-entertainment industry.

And that whole package is just what Hilbert and her boys are after.

"Our weather here is pretty warm so this feels like a fall activity, the pumpkins, doing fall activities, hay rides, enjoying this time of year," Hilbert said.