PALMER – A pumpkin punching in at 2,023.5 pounds and vaguely resembling Jabba the Hutt took the day at the Alaska State Fair’s weigh-off Monday, giving local legend Dale Marshall of Anchorage yet another win in the annual contest.
The pumpkin, which Marshall simply called “2023″ after the year, was 123.5 pounds shy of last year’s winner, which had set a new state record at 2,147 pounds. His second entry weighed in at 1,875.5 pounds, but contest rules preclude the same person from winning both first and second places.
Marshall said he was surprised the winner had grown so big given this year’s wet weather and lack of steady sunshine.
“The weather was horrible. They need sun, and we didn’t have any,” he said.
Marshall grows his pumpkins in a greenhouse where he can control the environment and gets growing advice from the online community bigpumpkins.com, he said. The seed for this year’s winner came from his record-setting 2022 entry, he said.
Each pumpkin gets a careful once-over for holes or cracks from flashlight- and probe-wielding judges before being hoisted from a platform and onto the scale.
All it takes is one misstep to crack and ruin a large pumpkin – something grower Keith Malone of Chugiak knows well. His entry this year, “Little Baby,” was his second attempt and tiny compared to Marshall’s, hitting only 620.5 pounds. The pumpkin he wanted to enter tragically collapsed on itself in late July, crushing his hopes for pumpkin glory.
“It felt like I died,” he said.
But in a year of – mostly – smaller pumpkins, Malone’s back-up contender was still good enough for second place.
No entries from the Interior joined the fray this year. Dave Iles, whose 1,231.5-pound entry out of North Pole won in 2017, said he’s been unable to participate since a heavy snowfall took out his greenhouse in 2020. He recently relocated to Palmer and is now house-hunting for the perfect spot to grow giant pumpkins, he said, with plans to bring in a winning entry.
“Two more years,” he said. “I’ll spend next summer setting everything up.”
Iles said he was impressed with how large Marshall was able to grow his entries this year.
“To tell you the truth, considering how the season started with all the rain and lack of sun, he did an incredible job,” he said.
A total of seven pumpkins from five growers were entered this year, including one from first-timer Rowdy Polis, age 6.
Nicknamed “Loaded Diaper,” which Rowdy said was inspired by the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” his pumpkin totaled 59 pounds.
Rowdy said he was most worried that a chicken had pecked a hole in it, which would have disqualified it from the contest.
Tayah Polis, 10, joined her brother in the contest with an entry called “Trooper” weighing 89 pounds.
The siblings live in Palmer and grow their entries with their grandmother. Tayah said she wished other kids would join them at the contest.
The giant vegetable contests are a way to spread joy for a beloved group of five women known as the Cabbage Fairies. Clad in green and yellow scarves and tulle with orange highlights added on pumpkin day, the fairies have participated in the state fair for almost 20 years. But this year’s weigh-ins are the original group’s last, as they pass the baton to a new group of younger fairies.
“About 20 years ago when I started this, I didn’t think I’d still be doing it this many years later,” said Ginny Lawton. “I never thought about the fact that I wouldn’t be quite as ambulatory as I was. I started in my late 50s. And now I’m 77 — and I’m not gonna make it to 80.”
The giant cabbage weigh-in, scheduled for Sept. 1, will be the original Cabbage Fairies’ last State Fair event.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported weigh-off winner standings. It was Keith Malone, not Dale Marshall, who won second place for his 620.5-pound pumpkin.