“Pumpkins are like Christmas trees. When little kids see them, their eyes light up and they smile.”
Those words, uttered by the late George Perry, was in response to a question more than a decade ago.
He was asked to explain how a handshake he made in 1958 with the late Antoine Raymus to rent acreage to plant pumpkins near the Old Summer Home School site at Cottage Avenue and Southland Road ended up leading to Manteca becoming the undisputed heavyweight pumpkin capital in the western United States.
Perry added “it was a joy” to grow something that made kids so happy.
Perry’s farming concern gave birth to George Perry & Sons. It is now the largest melon broker on the West Coast, moving harvests as far away as Arizona to market.
Actually, you could say George Perry & Sons is in the fruit business given that it’s what pumpkins, watermelons, honey dews, and cantaloupes are classified as botanically.
The reason why San Joaquin County is California’s largest winegrape growing county is the well-drained soil, hot days with nights cooled by Delta breezes that steps up the sugar content of fruit.
It is the same reason why there are more pumpkins and watermelons grown in San Joaquin County than anywhere else in California.
Manteca-Ripon is home to the two most well-known purveyors of watermelons — Perry & Sons as well as Van Groningen & Sons that broker under the moniker Yosemite Fresh.
Both growers’ carboard shipping boxes grace stores up and down the Pacific Coast from Costco, Target, and Walmart to mom-and-pop endeavors.
The 2,250 acres dedicated to growing pumpkins in the fields around Manteca, Ripon and Tracy is slightly smaller than the land that is within the four-square miles in Manteca bounded by Louise Avenue, Cottage Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, and Union Road.
From those 2,250 acres, a total of 54,500 tons were shipped to market. That’s 109 million of the 156.8 million pounds of pumpkins produced that year in California.
That means Manteca-Ripon-Tracy produced 69.8 percent of all pumpkins in California.
This year’s harvest is now under way.
Crews are busy tossing pumpkins into open bed trailers pulled by tractors through fields surrounding Manteca.
Throughout most of October, dozens of trucks will be rolling out of Manteca delivering to distributors throughout California a bounty of pumpkins.
It is little wonder pumpkins are celebrated the first weekend of October in Manteca.
This year’s edition
of the Pumpkin Fair
This year’s celebration — the 39th annual Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair — takes place in downtown Manteca on Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.
And if you count pumpkin celebrations staged by other service clubs beforehand, the pumpkin fun has been going on for half a century in Manteca.
That said no one can throw a pumpkin party like “The Pumpkin Fair People” — the Sunrise Kiwanis.
Downtown Manteca is being turned into all things pumpkin Oct. 7and 8 in the triangle formed by Yosemite Avenue, Main Street, and Center Street.
It features free admission, free entertainment, free parking, and free fun.
It also will feature ideal weather. The first frost has yet to form on the pumpkins. The forecast for both days calls for highs around 80 degrees.
In other words, perfect weather for people watching, family fun, checking out 150 vendors, and enjoying every street food possible from Lockeford Sausage to ice cream treats.
Yes, the pumpkin magic is returning.
You can see the magic in the eyes of kids get bigger than the slice of pumpkin pie they try to eat in time honored beat-the-clock tradition.
You can see it in the giddiness of kids picking out the perfect pumpkin.
You’ll hear it in the music of talented teens and professional acts filling the October air.
Neighbors, friends and families wander the streets of downtown Manteca taking in the sights and sounds enjoying a warm early fall day.
The two-day Manteca Pumpkin Fair is one of the biggest laid-back events on the calendar in the 209.
It started 50 years ago as a way for Manteca’s pumpkin growers to express community pride and to give kids a day of old-fashioned fun.
Half Moon Bay’s bold and dubious claim in the 1970s that it was the Pumpkin Capital of the World has helped generate more than $1 million for Manteca non-profits.
That’s because Manteca pumpkin growers headed by Perry were a bit taken aback by Half Moon Bay’s boast given the fact historically anywhere between 70 and 80 percent of all pumpkins grown in California come from the fields around Manteca.
That prompted the farmers to start an informal “pumpkin fair” for a few hours one day at Library Park in downtown Manteca.
It consisted of some kids’ games, a belly dancer that first year, bales of hay and a small mountain of pumpkins. They also openly challenged Half Moon Bay’s claim. That led to the “friendly feud” between the two communities being a featured cover story in People magazine.
Today the Manteca Pumpkin Fair is staged by the Sunrise Kiwanis.
Information on vendor booths for the two-day event that typically lures more than 50,000 people is available by going to www.sunrisekiwanis.org
There’s a Paint and Sip Party with three sessions. The $30 fee covers the 12-inch by 12-inch canvas, needed supplies and of course wine.
The Main Stage entertainment includes:
11 a.m. to noon: A guitar and vocal act
12:30 to 2 p.m.: The Suspension (pop/classic rock/harmony)
2:30 to 4 p.m.: The Sky Kings (country/rock/blues/funk)
4:30 to p.m.: Jim Anderson & The Rebels (Elvis/country)
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Network
1 to 2:30 p.m.: Bad Neighbors
3 to 5 p.m.: Aaron Gayden Band
There’s also a car show on Sunday and the free kids zone events each day at Library Park.