With Halloween just around the corner, the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival offered the perfect opportunity to purchase seasonal gifts and supplies.
Saturday's event drew thousands of visitors eager to bring home pumpkins and sample the wares of local vendors. Throughout the day, a steady stream of cars trickled through the heart of the festival en route to an increasingly crowded parking lot.
The festivities opened with a celebratory parade and the crowning of the Pumpkin King, a Hartsburg resident selected by the Pumpkin Festival Committee as a person who best exemplifies the community's values. This year's chosen king was Edwin Nichols.
The festival, now in its 22nd year running, was born from a community cafÃ© conversation on how to promote the town, said Donna Hilgedick, a member of the Pumpkin Festival Committee.
"The first year had 25 booths, and it just grew from there," she said.
Saturday's event boasted around 200 booths, with vendors selling food, services and handcrafted merchandise. Among the items offered were jewelry, homemade soaps, and even puppies, much to visitors' delight.
Most of the entertainment was designed with children in mind. Cedar Valley Riders Saddle Club sponsored pony rides, while workers at several booths offered facepainting services. A corn maze and an air rifle shooting range also attracted plenty of participants.
The biggest attractions, true to the festival's namesake, were the areas designated for pumpkin-buying. Nahler Farms invited festivalgoers an interactive "pick your own pumpkin" experience, promising visitors the chance to choose a pumpkin of any size directly from the patch. Hackman Farms, in contrast, offered a variety of different pumpkins, among them pie pumpkins, fairytale pumpkins and aptly named Big Mac pumpkins.
Jo Hackman, owner of Hackman Farms, said this year's pumpkin crop has been very good compared with the previous two years' harvests. Many visitors stopped by the farm's display to purchase a pumpkin or two.
"This morning we were kind of worried because of the rain, but I think it's just been wonderful," she said.
The bountiful harvest was evident in the number of pumpkin-themed treats offered at the festival, from pumpkin fudge to the ever-popular pumpkin trifles: whipped cream, pumpkin pie filling and spice cake layered and served in a plastic cup.
Festival visitors said the event gave them the opportunity to spend time with family and appreciate the work and craftsmanship of local merchants.
Kevin Miller of Jefferson City said he goes to the festival each year to "get a pumpkin, hang out and enjoy the weather."
Ashland resident Robin Shaon said her favorite part of the festival is seeing the wares of the different craft vendors, particularly new hair accessories.
For those who missed the activities Saturday, there's no need to worry. The pumpkin festival continues today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.