Des Moines duo raises winning giant pumpkin at Iowa State Fair

Iowa State University Extension
Don Young and his son-in-law Tommy Rhodes of Des Moines received a $1,850 cash award for their 915 pound pumpkin.

AMES, Iowa — A super-sized pumpkin tipping the scale at 915 pounds won first place at the 2021 Iowa State Fair Big Pumpkin Contest.

The growers, Don Young and his son-in-law Tommy Rhodes of Des Moines received a $1,850 cash award. 

David Miller of Riverside claimed second place and $800 with a 716-pound pumpkin, and a 637-pound entry by Paul Harrington of Blakesburg earned third place and $450.

Young and Rhodes are no strangers to growing giant pumpkins. The duo won the state contest in 2019 and had the world record pumpkin in 2007 and again in 2009. In 2007, their three pumpkins had a combined world record weight of 4,613 pounds.

Young has been growing and breeding “Atlantic Giants” for about 20 years, and seeds from his winning pumpkins have been grown around the country.

“It’s a lot of effort and work, but everyone can do this with a little bit of common gardening skills,” Young said.

Experience has been the key to Young’s success, especially in Iowa, where the climate can sometimes limit the growing season, especially in a hot year like 2021. He now starts his pumpkins in a greenhouse, in February or March, and cares for them daily.

Because the state fair falls in August, he has to get an early start. An added early harvest often means not having as big of a pumpkin in the fall.

But 915-pounds in August is good enough for first place, and Young said he was pleased with this year’s results.

The state fair pumpkin contest was sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Farm, Food and Enterprise Development, the Iowa State University Department of Horticulture, the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Bode Moonlight Gardens, Hilltop Farms, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Black’s Heritage Farm, Geisler Farms and Rupp Seeds.