Nearly 95 percent of all processed pumpkins—enough to make 90 million pies—are grown yearly in the Pumpkin capital of the World


Like numerous Chicagoans, I often tend to mindlessly fly end or drive through the vast, sparsely lived in regions of central Illinois southern of the city. Yet today, ~ hurtling by seemingly limitless fields of corn stalks, wheat, and soybeans, I departure the interstate and also enter Morton, a small town of 16,000.

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Libby’s hulking pumpkin handling plant looms in the background. Block away, on key Street, flagpole banners recognize Morton as the “Pumpkin capital of the World.” This is no idle public boast: Acre ~ above acre of landscape on the outskirts of city is dotted with orange orbs. Pumpkin farms both huge and small radiate 75 miles or for this reason in all directions native Morton.

If you’ve ever before feasted top top pumpkin pie, inserted a pumpkin on her porch, or carved a jack-o’-lantern, the pumpkin many likely flourished here. Because that a level state not always celebrated because that its organic beauty, a large swath of the soil of Lincoln is a pumpkin-lover’s paradise. Illinois produces twice as numerous pumpkins together the following leading state, California—the state’s distinctive soil, shame by geologic eons, is appropriate for cultivation the squash.

Morton is the buckle the the Pumpkin Belt. Almost 95 percent of every processed pumpkins are produced in Illinois many thanks to Libby’s plant and the Seneca foods plant in adjacent Princeville.


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Joe home runs a small 7-acre farm where he grows 280 varieties of pumpkin. | Photo: Jay Copp
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House hoists big pumpkins v a tractor. | Photo: Jay Copp

A pickup truck rumbles right into his lot, and House jumps increase from his chair. “They were below yesterday. They’re ago for your giant,” he says, prior to hoisting a 300-pound pumpkin right into the customer’s trailer.

In a an excellent year house says he grows 50 large pumpkins. For 4 consecutive year he won the “Big Honkin’ Pumpkin” dispute at the Morton Pumpkin Festival—once v a 995-pound behemoth.

House grow ornamental pumpkins, not handling ones. The last are oval and pale orange; they’re meatier within and much more palatable. Carving pumpkins space bright orange and also round.

Each year his flow of client grows. “Fall decorating increases and increases,” home says. “Seems like Thanksgiving is forgotten, and Halloween is so big.”

He states this September was “crazy” due to the fact that of the pandemic. “Everybody want to gain out that the house,” house says.

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A playground featuring a pumpkin-shaped slide. | Photo: Jay Copp
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Lu Lu’s retail shop packed v pumpkin-related candles, home décor, and T-shirts. | Photo: Jay Copp

The four-day Pumpkin Festival in September, which usually draws 75,000 people, has commemorated all things pumpkin since 1967. Pumpkins space weighed, raced, decorated, paraded, carved, and, that course, cooked. Fairgoers enjoy pumpkin-flavored cookies, pancakes, chili, and also pasta salad. They also delight in the weird Punkin Chuckin’ Contest. One year, brainy design students in ~ the university of Illinois constructed a contraption that shot a 10-pound pumpkin nearly a mile, wrecking the people record and the pumpkin.

Near the fairgrounds downtown, The Confectionary bakery whips up pumpkin bars and cookies year-round. Pumpkin pie is a staple in the fall. “People gain that loss feeling and want it,” claims co-owner Travis Langenbach. He is a tiny embarrassed to admit it, but he’s “not a huge fan that pumpkin pie. I choose the pumpkin bars,” the says.

Home top top the farm

My last stop is Ackerman household Farms, a popular destination on the suburbs of Morton. My genial host, man Ackerman, wears an orange shirt lettered top top the earlier with “Farmer John.” Overseeing 30 acre of pumpkins, that lives, breathes, and, many assuredly, eats pumpkins. “The various other day my wife made pumpkin soup,” Ackerman says. “Delicious. And also there was something for this reason comforting around it.”

Pumpkins, indeed, room his life. “I’m a complete pumpkin geek,” the says. “I’m a professor of pumpkinology.” So that goes in Morton: “Cut someone from Morton and also orange pours out,” Ackerman adds.

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Overseeing 30 acre of pumpkins, john Ackerman lives, breathes, and also eats pumpkins. | Photo: Jay Copp
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Wagons awaiting pumpkins in ~ Ackerman family Farms. | Photo: Jay Copp

Pumpkins were a panacea because that Ackerman, a fourth-generation farmer. His great-grandfather loaded countless silver dollars right into his wagon and rode to town to to buy the farm an ext than 100 years ago, according to family lore. The cow and also pig farm sustained the good Depression, and also his father survived fighting in Europe and the horror of liberating concentration camps. Yet the farm can not survive the agricultural crisis that the 1980s.

Ackerman sold life insurance. He tried growing and also selling flowers. Climate Libby’s came calling in 1998 with a contract, and also later a stroke of happy turned him right into an ornamental pumpkin farmer. He put some damaged pumpkins in a pickup as a yard decoration. Drivers stopped and also asked, “Are those because that sale?” Ackerman didn’t hesitate. “You bet they are,” he told them.

“Cut who from Morton and also orange pours out.”

John Ackerman

His 30 acres periodically yield as many as 30,000 pumpkins scattered amongst 160 varieties. “I buy seed from every continent except Antarctica,” Ackerman says.

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A dirt-beneath-fingernails farmer through and also through, Ackerman completely understands the loess floor in Illinois. The retreating glaciers left a dark soil, which was blown by the wind and also eventually overgrown through prairie grass. Over countless thousands of year the strange organic mix caused “incredibly affluent soil. Anything can flourish in Illinois,” according to Ackerman. The growing season is too short north, and the south has actually too lot humidity. But the love of the state is perfect for pumpkins.

Pumpkins on display screen at Ackerman family Farms. | Photo: Jay Copp

Safe haven

Ackerman enjoys communicating with customers, hearing their stories, answering questions—and joshing with them as well. He speak a group around to get in his sophisticated corn maze: “You need to be out by November 1, or okay harvest you.”

He understands what ranches mean to most people. On September 11, 2001, no one visited. The next day was a stampede. “People wanted to get away native the TV and news,” Ackerman says. “They wanted to be on a farm, a place that represents a for sure haven.”

In spite—or maybe partially because—of the COVID-19 pandemic, civilization still come in droves. “Most human being have some connection to a farm,” Ackerman says. “Each generation it’s an ext removed. However there’s miscellaneous for anyone here—whether you’re a nature lover or animal lover. There’s something magical about agriculture.”