ABINGDON, Va. — Bear Lloyd pondered pumpkin farming after years of chasing cows.
“These pumpkins are a new venture for me,” said Lloyd, 29, a 2009 graduate of Abingdon High School.
Lloyd grew up on a farm a couple of miles from the high school. Today, he said, “I can hear the high school band playing on my farm, so that’s nice.”
Lloyd is more than a farmer. He is in his seventh year as a high school marketing teacher, starting in Smyth County and now teaching at Abingdon High.
Growing pumpkins adds to his enterprises of raising sheep and cattle.
“This being a complete new adventure to me, I teamed up with a young farmer friend, and we put out just a little under nine acres,” Lloyd said.
Those nine acres lie between Meadowview and Glade Spring in rural Washington County.
Lloyd’s farming has produced “a great bumper crop,” he said. “It’s been a great growing season. And I’ve made it a point to thank God for the bumper crop.”
Pumpkins in Virginia
Lloyd is now one of nearly 400 pumpkin growers in Virginia. To acknowledge the work of Virginians who cultivate and harvest pumpkins, Gov. Ralph S. Northam proclaimed October as “Virginia Pumpkin Month.”
“We love celebrating our pumpkin farmers here in Virginia. They have found increasingly innovative ways to both grow and market their products, and consumers have responded enthusiastically,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring in a news release. “In addition to fall decor, pumpkins are a highly nutritious, low-carb fruit.”
In 2019, Virginia pumpkin farmers planted 5,700 acres of pumpkins and harvested 5,600 acres that were valued at $16.4 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. These figures include Virginia’s wholesale growers, as well as any pick-your-own pumpkin farms that sell directly to consumers.
Pumpkins are grown across the commonwealth, with most of the state’s commercial pumpkin production occurring in Southwest Virginia, as farmers have taken advantage of higher elevations and cooler temperatures to produce a high-value crop that consumers enjoy.
“Consumers can expect to find a variety of pumpkins this fall in just about every size, shape and color. Virginia-grown pumpkins are perfect for decorating, carving or eating,” said Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh.
In all, Lloyd hopes to grow as many as 50,000 pumpkins this year and sell them “everywhere,” he said.
That includes grocery stores, feed stores and “out of the back of my truck,” he said. “It’s from one pumpkin to a big wholesale order.”
Lloyd grows three kinds, including small pumpkins called “field trips.” Asked about the name, Lloyd laughed and said, “They’re about the size for a little kid to pick up.”
He also grows a medium-sized white pumpkin called a “luna.”
The third variety is a small orange pumpkin with bumps — or “warts,” Lloyd said.
On the farm, Lloyd employs students from Emory & Henry College, where he earned a degree in education in 2014.
Right now is harvest time for pumpkins. It actually begins in September and spans through mid-October, Lloyd said.
To Lloyd, the popularity of pumpkins “amazes me,” he said.
“People are crazy about fall,” Lloyd said. “And a pumpkin is one of the big symbols of fall.”
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