Picking a Just-Right Jack-o-Lantern

The trick and the treat at Hunsdon Farms is finding the perfect pumpkin.

Thousands of people flock to the massive pumpkin patch in southeastern Arizona every Halloween and venture through the sea of orange with the goal of picking that just-right jack-o-lantern to carve for Halloween.

Carla Chadwick and her family make the two-hour trek from Tucson every year.

“It’s good for them to come out here and see where they come from,” said Chadwick, at the farm with her 13-year-old son and her daughter and niece, both 7. “The kids get a kick out of it and they leave very tired.”

Business Blossoms Cory and Julie Hunsdon started growing pumpkins in the early 1980s after someone said it was a good way to make money during Halloween. Their operation has since blossomed to 22 acres and this year’s bumper crop will produce 3,000 to 5,000 pumpkins per acre.

On weekends through October the Hunsdons offer customers you-pick hay rides for about 2,000 to 2,500 people a day. Weekdays, folks walk out into some of the fields themselves.

“I drive the tractor a lot, but I can hear the kids going, ‘Pumpkins!’” Cory Hunsdon said. “Little kids usually pick a bigger pumpkin than they need” — and frequently ones nearly as big as they are.

Many customers, particularly children, are overwhelmed, he said.

“They can’t make up their mind. It’s like, ‘OK, there’s a million pumpkins here to look at, and which one do we want?’” he said.

The Hunsdons grow several varieties — some producing large pumpkins that ripen to a deep, dark rich orange and others that are smaller and used for pies.

Pickers and Peddlers The average pumpkin weighs about 16 to 18 pounds, but Hunsdon said he’s grown them as big as 135 pounds. Generally, an adult will purchase the large ones for a party, “to set out and make a statement, or a display,” he said.

About 30 percent of this year’s crop will be sold to customers who pick their own. Another 30 percent will be sold to peddlers who sell them out of their pickups on street corners across the state, while the rest go to major supermarkets.

Most customers, big and small, pick their pumpkins with carving and Halloween in mind, not eating pies and Thanksgiving.

“I’ve never seen a child who is not excited,” Julie Hunsdon said.