It’s the great pumpkin, Hartsburg

The Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival offers crafts, food and games, all with a pumpkin theme.

Three hundred and sixty three days out of the year, Hartsburg is home to 108 residents, a few dozen white houses and a handful of farms. But for two days each October, its farmers mow down their fields and the small German town prepares to see its population grow by tens of thousands.

The Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival has been a staple of the town culture since 1991, when eight members of the Hartsburg Bike and Social Club created the idea around a small table in a Hartsburg Café.

It didn’t take long for the idea of a pumpkin festival to take off and for the group to begin planning for the town’s first festival. The eight founders funded the event from their own pockets, offering booth space free of charge, asking only that vendors donate an item to the festival. The club scouted out vendors from fairs and festivals in Jefferson City, Columbia and St. Louis, taking a little something from each event they visited.

Since then, the event has grown from a few dozen vendors and 6,000 visitors into a town-closing event that sees tens of thousands of attendees each year.

“I think people are surprised at what such a little town can do,” Festival Committee President Ganelle Cunningham said. “We’re just a unique, little town in the valley.”

Cunningham expects a big turnout this year, comparable to the town’s record of 50,000 attendees in two days. The town prepares for its guests by closing down the town itself for booths and vendors and mowing down its crops to create parking spaces. On festival weekend, the five-mile stretch of road into Hartsburg comes to a standstill, taking upward of an hour to drive through.

Those brave enough to conquer the drive will experience 251 booths offering arts, crafts, pumpkin-themed recipes and other country cooking, as well as bobbing for pumpkins and pumpkin-pie-eating contests.

“We try to make it an event for the whole family,” committee member Jo Hackman said. “We have all sorts of booths with arts and crafts and good foods, and we see vendors from all over. We even have someone coming out from Utah this year.”

A parade will mark the start of festival activities Saturday morning, followed by all-day live entertainment and fair rides. Of course, a pumpkin festival would not be complete without a pumpkin patch. Hackman Farms offers a wide variety of pumpkins to festival attendees every year, including Giant Big Mac Pumpkins — a favorite for kids to climb on.

Since the first festival in 1991, Hartsburg has seen its modest town’s popularity boom. Although the town itself has remained small, its circle of friends has grown by the thousands.

When “The Great Flood” of 1993 knocked out 40 of Hartsburg’s 50 houses, destroyed its crops and sunk the town under 12 feet of water, the committee was forced to cancel the pumpkin fest. Fans of the festival rushed to Hartsburg’s rescue, volunteering their time and labor to help with clean up and recovery.

Today, Hartsburg embraces its growing recognition and bears the title of “Missouri’s pumpkin patch” with pride.

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