The great pumpkin state: When it comes to pumpkins, Illinois is No. 1
Illinoisans can't brag much about sports this fall (search "Chicago Bears abysmal,' "Cubs wild-card desperation," and let's not even talk about the White Sox.)
But we can chant, "We're No. 1!" with pride, as the pumpkin provider to the nation.
And despite a rough start to the season, Illinois is poised to retain the title, according to Raghela Scavuzzo, associate director of food systems development at the Illinois Farm Bureau.
"We actually had a good year," Scavuzzo said, despite the drought of May and June that affected germination. "Chicago will not have a shortage."
She anticipates this year's crop will weigh at least 650 million pounds. In 2021, 652 million pounds of the gourd were gathered, according to the Agriculture Department's Census of Agriculture, more than the next five states combined.
Nationally, Americans have consumed more than 5 pounds of pumpkin per person per year for about two decades, according to the agriculture census.
Illinois has 15,900 acres devoted to pumpkins, more than twice that of any of the other top six pumpkin-raising states, according to the USDA.
There are two types of pumpkin businesses in Illinois; Those that make money off jack-o'-lanterns, and those that make pumpkin pie possible. Illinois really rules the latter -- about 80% of the acreage is devoted to pumpkins for processing.
We have "one of the best soils to grow in," Scavuzzo said. Pumpkins like a well-drained soil, a little on the dry side, she noted.
Downstate Morton -- home to the Libby's pumpkin processing plant -- proclaims itself the pumpkin capital of the world. The plant was built in 1925 and has been devoted exclusively to pumpkins since 1970, Scavuzzo said.
Another large processor, Seneca Foods, is about 25 miles away, in Princeville.
There are thousands of pumpkin possibilities, but Libby's has a proprietary seed. It produces pumpkins with a thicker rind and creamier flesh than the kind you carve up. Processing pumpkins are usually meatier and sweeter.
For the decor
The other pumpkin industry? Those that produce what you put on your porch for Halloween.
"We are seeing a change in what people are buying," Scavuzzo said.
Lloyd Goebbert, 60, and Jacob Goebbert, 36, co-owners of Goebbert's Farm in Pingree Grove, confirm that. Besides your traditional orange, Goebbert's has white pumpkins, warty pumpkins, and some small pie pumpkins -- "the oddballs," Lloyd Goebbert calls them. But mainly, it is the Adonis and Olympus orange fruits that provide Halloween decor.
Lloyd Goebbert's father, Jim, started with a vegetable farm near the former Arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights in the 1950s. The operation moved to South Barrington in 1972, and his children started selling pumpkins from a roadside stand.
Pumpkin sales got so busy that they started the "Fall Festival," and Jim Goebbert had the legendary "Happy Jack" 18-by-15-foot jack-o'-lantern decoration installed atop a silo in South Barrington.
"That turned into a genius thought," Lloyd Goebbert said.
Goebbert's maintains a garden center in South Barrington but moved the growing to Pingree Grove in 1985.
The Goebberts now grow pumpkins on 85 acres. They also grow about 80 acres of field and sweet corn, and 50 acres of other vegetables, including beets, tomatoes, peppers and melons.
They added an apple orchard in 2017, and the Fall Festival now features a variety of family-oriented amusements.
Goebbert's sells prepicked pumpkins in its stores in South Barrington and Pingree Grove, and pick-your-own at Pingree Grove. They don't sell much wholesale -- although another of Lloyd's children, James, has his own nearby farm for that.
Lloyd Goebbert said production is down because of the dry weather -- pumpkins are about 90% water -- and yield also was reduced by a virus. Normally, they aim for 15 tons of pumpkins per acre, but this year he thinks it will be 10 to 12 tons.
But, "the quality is very good," he added.