This male dominated world became a real issue for me as I tried to
blend in to the Rhode Island growers’ club that I was writing about in
Backyard Giants. Over the years, the growers there had developed a kind
of boys-only club, and in the view of some, my frequent visits began to
crimp their style. Having a woman looking over their shoulder spoiled
some of the fun, one grower complained. They had to be on their best
behavior when I was on the premises.
It was a gentlemanly impulse, I suppose. I didn’t want to disillusion
them with a vocabulary list of the socially unacceptable words I’ve
been known to utter. Nor did I remind them that plenty of women had
proven their mettle in the pumpkin patch by setting their own world
records. Paula Zehr, a New York grower, was the first person in the
world to grow a pumpkin weighing more than 1,000 pounds in 1996. Gerry
Checkon set a world record in 1999 her first year growing in
Pennsylvania, zooming past her grower husband after he lost his pumpkin
mid-season to a split. (Larry Checkon got his matching world record in
2005.) And Geneva Emmons set a world record in 2001 with a 1,262-pound
pumpkin in Washington.
So considering how dramatically men outnumber women in the
pumpkin patch, the way I see it, women have been beating the pants off
men for the last 10 years!
Yet they still have a harder time claiming their due. As I discussed
this with different women growers through the year, I came to
understand one reason why. It seems that in yonder days wives provided
a handy way for some men growers to cheat a little. Many pumpkin
weigh-offs have a one-pumpkin-per-grower rule to help level the playing
field. That’s tough to stomach for growers who end the season with a
couple of potential prize-winners. So a few men competitors had been
known to bump up their winning chances by entering a second pumpkin
under their wife’s name. After all, she turned on the sprinkler once a
week, and she brought her husband a cold-one on hot days in the patch.
That counts, doesn’t it?
This tactic was supremely aggravating to competitors who saw it as
cheating. And it was unfair to all the women growers who really did do
the hard work of growing pumpkins and had a legitimate right to enter a
pumpkin under their own name. Yet they still got looked upon with
suspicion when they partnered with their husbands.
Sherry LaRue, who grows pumpkins alongside her husband, Jack, in the
Northwest, solved the problem by drawing a sharp line in the garden
between his-and-her pumpkins. She made sure no one could accuse her of
piggybacking on her husband by setting aside her own patch of dirt to
grow her pumpkins. And just to be sure, she and Jack never compete at
the same weigh-off.
In Rhode Island, Scott and Sherry Palmer of Rhode Island shared the credit by entering one pumpkin under both their names.
As the hobby grows and draws in more people, women growers are
popping up more often on bigpumpkins.com, the growers’ virtual
community. From what I can see, women are welcomed just as warmly as
men. But it helps to have a thick skin. Women growers often are teased
about wearing high-heels in the pumpkin patch or ruining their
manicures. And tolerance (or appreciation) of bawdy humor is a must.
Give a man two smooth round orbs and there’s no limit to the number of
sex jokes he can get out of it. I won’t even get in to the subject of
hand pollinating, except to say that pumpkin growers have given me new
insights into why parents have such a tough time discussing the birds
and the bees with their kids.
Check out the book’s website here. Want a book? Post a clever tale of sex, large vegetables, or round orbs for a chance to win. And go meet Susan here:
Sept. 27, 7 p.m.
Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble
7700 West Northwest Hwy. Ste. 300
Dallas, TX 75225
Sept 29, 3:30
Houston, TX 77005
Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers – Warwick
1350-B Bald Hill Rd
Warwick, RI 02886
Oct. 20, 27 1 p.m.
Autumn at the Arboretum
8525 Garland Road
Dallas, Texas 75218