When the Ryan Norlin GIANT Pumpkin Weigh-Off first started, it was not the event it is today.
The weigh-off was first run just on its own in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Oct. 9, 1989. Back then, it was held on the Canadian version of Columbus Day, the second Monday in October. It wasn’t until the weigh-off combined with the Anamosa Area Chamber of Commerce’s Pumpkinfest that it moved to the weekend.
When Anamosa’s event first started, the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the international organization that governs competition, had just 11 sites in North America and none in Iowa or the surrounding states.
“We had growers coming from Wisconsin, Minnesota, all the surrounding states. We had growers coming from as far as Colorado,” Greg Norlin said, whose family started the weigh-off and still runs the event today. “We got to know a lot of the growers and their families. It was almost like an annual reunion.”
Today, there have been more sites added around the Midwest than there were 30 years ago, including another in Iowa. Giant pumpkin growing has become a true international endeavor, with the last two world record pumpkins coming from Europe. Even so, that familial feeling still remains.
“We have a nucleus of growers from all over the Midwest. We still have dedicated growers from Wisconsin and Minnesota. They look forward to getting together in Anamosa,” Norlin said. “They love the fact that we have a Pumpkinfest…a lot of these sites only have a weigh-off.”
This year’s event will obviously look much different, with many of the usual events being canceled and the weigh-off itself being closed to the public, which includes the parking lot and grounds of the Lawrence Community Center. Norlin said with trying to follow the guidelines put forward by Jones County Public Health, he just didn't see a way for spectators to be possible at the event.
While food will be available for the growers in the LCC, pumpkins will be unloaded, weighed and then loaded right back on to the growers’ trucks, and the announcement will be made outside. Without pumpkins being put on display in the Lawrence Center, Norlin expects the process to go quicker this year.
The public will still be able to see the winning pumpkins as part of the reverse parade by driving through the LCC parking lot from 1:30 p.m. until 3 p.m.
Many weigh-offs have fallen victim to the coronavirus, making Anamosa’s event one of the few around. Norlin said they’ve put feelers out, but due to the competitive nature of the competitions, it will be hard to tell what the field will look like before the event kicks off.
“A lot of the growers get real quiet. They don’t want the other growers to know how big of a pumpkin they have. They want to have the biggest pumpkin at a weigh-off site,” Norlin said. “If I’ve got one that I think will be number one at Anamosa, I don’t want to tell you I’m going to Anamosa.”
Last year, the winning pumpkin broke the Iowa State record, and Norlin suspects another record of some kind could be in the cards.
“Now that we’re weighing the giant pumpkins and the field pumpkins, and we’re weighing the giant watermelons and the long gourds, we’re in contention for some record-breaker almost every year,” Norlin said.