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Murillo man claims ‘Golden Hoe’ at pumpkin festival

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Don Cronk’s smile was almost as big as his pumpkin Saturday after the Murillo resident grabbed top honours in the annual Rainy River Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival at Hannam Park, taking home a $1,000 cheque and the “Golden Hoe.”

Cronk’s 554-pound pumpkin weighed in well ahead of Dr. Ewan Affleck’s entry from Rainy River, which fell just shy of the 500-pound mark at 498.

David Lowen (Stratton) took third place with a 412-pound entry, with Kenny Trenchard (Sleeman) nipping at his heels at 403.

A total of 55 pumpkins were entered in the competition this year.

“It just took off and just grew,” Cronk said, noting he had sent off a letter to pumpkin “guru” Howard Dill last spring for his seeds although he wasn’t sure what variety of pumpkin he grew.

Cronk, an engineer with CP Rail, also won the Distance Award, Rookie of the Year, and Most Attractive Pumpkin. Not bad considering this is only his second year growing the orange giants.

His interested was piqued last year when his son grew one for a local competition—and his passion blossomed from there.

Cronk said he got on the Internet and tracked down a veritable ton of information on pumpkin growing. He also belongs to a chat group on pumpkin growing, with more than 200 people providing advice on how to get your gourd to grow.

“I used to grow everything in the garden,” he noted. “Now that I’m in pumpkins, everything else goes to weeds.”

Despite a poor growing season this year, Cronk’s passion for pumpkins has paid off. He also won a contest at the Hymers Fair near Murillo last month with a different pumpkin from the same patch.

The $200 payout from that helped offset the cost of a buying a water pump for his pumpkins. And with the $1,000 prize from last weekend’s pumpkin festival in Rainy River, Cronk said he’ll be able to spend more on his hobby—without causing marital tension.

“My wife told me, ‘Don’t spend any more money,’” he laughed.

Cronk already has his eyes on defending his title next year. And he’s confident Northwestern Ontario could produce some world record-sized pumpkins in a regular growing season.

“We have the amount of daylight here that we can beat places like California, where they also have pumpkins blow up in the heat,” Cronk said. “But you have to work at it.”

Meanwhile, organizer Dr. Affleck was quite pleased with the turnout of competitors and spectators Saturday, especially given the cold weather.

“It was clear in the morning, then it began snowing,” he noted. “It must have been about one degree C.

“If it hadn’t been for the tent, there would have been no one there,” he admitted. “Outside, it was bitter.”

Unlike last year, the pumpkin weights were announced immediately after they were weighed, with a leader board placed on a stage at the front of the tent that was updated with each weigh-in.

Dr. Affleck said that’s the way things are done at other festivals.

“People want to know how much these things weigh,” he said, noting it made the event more exciting. “Last year, people were crowding around and we were afraid we were going to run them over with a Bobcat so we were announcing them.”

Although the weights were down considerably from last year, Dr. Affleck said 554 pounds was respectable for a pumpkin—particularly in this growing season.

Dr. Affleck also felt having an out-of-district winner like Cronk could benefit the festival. He was full of high praises of it, and plans to bring more people down with him for next year’s competition.

“This is Northwestern Ontario’s giant pumpkin festival—the closest is Rowan, Man.,” Dr. Affleck said. “I think it’s very good for [the festival].”

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