The 38th annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival produced a real beauty yesterday — a record winner at 1704 pounds, grown by Napa’s Leonardo Urena. Urena won $1000. (Full results here, if you weren’t watching on ESPN 5.) Video from KTVU, photos from the Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.

Apparently Urena’s been doing this a long time. From his bio on the web site of Hudson Valley Vineyards, where he’s worked for over 20 years:

Around 2000, encouraged by Lee, Leonardo started to grow giant pumpkins in addition to his regular landscaping duties. At first it started as a project for the kids at Halloween and has now turned into a passion for Leonardo. His first pumpkin reached 634lbs and took 5th place in the Salinas weigh-off. Over the years, Leonardo has begun experimenting and working with other growers to trade seeds and in 2008 he grew a pumpkin weighing 1,404 lbs. His new goal is to grow a pumpkin over 1,500 pounds.

Mission accomplished. Even the Wall Street Journal is impressed. From an Oct 8 column called “Learning From a Giant Pumpkin.”

Leonardo Ureña is so passionate about outlandish produce that he could ruin you for regular-size fruit. Maybe for regular anything. As the world celebrated the Nobel winners and the late Steve Jobs, I discovered that there’s as much to learn in a pumpkin patch…

Hudson Vineyards is legendary and unmarked. If you know to look, you can see its three flag poles, now sporting the Stars and Stripes, Mexico’s tri-color for harvest workers, and a skull and crossbones for “Los Piratas,” the grape-crushing team. It’s here that Mr. Ureña, who came from Mexico 26 years ago, plants his Wonderlandy gardens.

It’s not just the pumpkins that are super-size. The corn reaches 25 feet high. Sunflowers have faces 2 feet wide. And the gourds! “It was a really ugly area right there,” said Mr. Ureña, pointing, so he built a 70-foot long trellis and planted his giant-breed seeds. “Now we call it the Gourd Tunnel.”

Tip-toe through the hanging vine tendrils and you’re inside a living sculpture. Suspended from the canopy above is an amazement of gourds: some 7 feet long, some 140 pounds. One has its own hammock: “My brother-in-law made it,” said Mr. Ureña. “He said, ‘You want it for your baby?’ But he didn’t know it was for my baby gourd.”

The place is like nothing you’ve seen. And that’s the whole point. This stuff isn’t edible. The seeds, like the ones for the “991 Ureña” pumpkin, have been cross-bred for shape, not taste. Some of the produce may be sold to restaurants for decoration, some rented to pumpkin patches.

And here’s Urena when he was a kid, before he’d perfected his technique:

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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