Pumpkins are grown in nearly every state, but Illinois’ weather conditions are part of the reason the state produces so many, said McCondell, owner of Great Pumpkin Patch in Moultrie County, Illinois.
“Squash is like hot, dry weather, and usually in the Midwest, we’ll get it,” Condell said. “We also have well-drained soil. This helps the squash – they don’t like wet feet.”
Across the state, Illinois farmers planted more than 20 square miles of squash, according to the 2017 Agricultural Census, the most recent census available.
And while the state produces a lot of jack-o-vantern’s pumpkin, it’s especially known for producing the smaller, sweet variety known as sugar squash, which is traditionally used for pies. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency, Illinois planted nearly 8 square miles of sugar squash this year, much more than half a square mile planted by runner-up, Texas.
The 2017 USDA census shows that only five counties in Illinois — Mason, Tazewell, Stark, Peoria, and Woodford counties — make up 60 percent of the state’s pumpkin area.
There have been some reports of pumpkin shortages and price hikes across the country, but Ragila Scavuso, associate director at the Illinois Farm Bureau, said such reports were exaggerated.
“There won’t be much shortage of pumpkin,” she said, “but what we’re having is a good year.” “We don’t have a great abundance, but we do have enough pumpkins to ease you up. Don’t panic when buying.”
Scafuzzo said the general labor shortage has caused supply chain problems in shipping containers and cans, as well as manufacturing delays, and that could drive up prices.
“What we see is a delay, but you don’t see that here in Illinois.”
Morton, Illinois, a village in Tazewell County about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, is particularly proud of its pumpkin production. Lee Ann Brown, executive director of the Morton Chamber of Commerce, said the village is home to Factory Libby, a Nestlé-owned food brand that sells canned fruits and vegetables, among other products. Brown said the plant produces 85 percent of the canned pumpkin sold in the United States.
“We are technically known as the pumpkin capital of the world,” Brown said, adding that former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson gave Morton that title in 1978. Taswell County planted nearly 5.2 square miles of pumpkins this year, according to FSA data, Much of the canned squash is obtained within an hour from the factory, Brown said.
The Internet is driving pumpkin trends, said Hilary Long, vice president of sales and marketing for Frey Farms — one of the largest pumpkin producers in the state.
“Social media has changed consumer habits in all aspects of everything,” she said.
Colorful and unique squash are popular this year, Long said, as are white squash. Farmers have followed this trend, diversifying their crops and producing ornamental squash along with oven-specific squash.
More than 1.5 square miles of white “ghost” squash were planted this year, nearly five times the amount planted in 2009, according to FSA data. Most ghost pumpkins in the country are grown in Illinois.
Outside of Illinois, growers import varietals from all over the world in much the same way that vineyards specialize in certain wines due to their region and climate.
Mammoth squash hails from places like North Carolina, while baby squash is grown in states like Washington, Indiana, and Texas.
Skagit County, Washington, is one of the largest producers of young squash. Just north of Seattle, the county has planted more than half a square mile of baby squash, according to FSA data.
Eddie Gordon, co-owner of a farm there, said fall decor has been popular for a long time, but with platforms like Instagram, the intensity has increased. Consumers are now looking for more exotic pumpkins to complement their fall decor.
He said anything from color to stem length makes pumpkin posts stand out.
“The more dramatic the better,” he said.
“They should look like Rembrandt paintings.”
Correction (October 25, 2021, 10:30AM ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the title of Raghela Scavuzzo. She is the co-director of the Illinois farm office, not the CEO.