By Eileen Ogintz
HALF MOON BAY, CA (Day seven of seven) — Got good soil?
That’s what you need to grow a world-class giant pumpkin, says Farmer John Muller, who is a third generation farmer and happens to be the Mayor of Half Moon Bay. His father in law and mother in law—now 91 and 86 and married 67 years—still live on the farm, tending their own garden.
At Daylight Farms right near downtown Half Moon Bay, he shows us some pumpkins that he hopes will grow to 800-1000 pounds by this fall when thousands come here for the famous Pumpkin Festival complete with Pumpkin Parade, championship pumpkin weigh offs, live music, a haunted house, and expert pumpkin carvers. (Ready to carve a 1200-pound masterpiece?) The community bills itself as the World Pumpkin Capital, in fact. The coastal climate here, with warm days and cool nights, is perfect for growing pumpkins.
Many find their way to Farmer John’s pumpkin patch just off Highway 1 including some 4000 school children. They grow some 80 varieties of pumpkins and they aren’t all orange.
In fact, when school groups come, they hear the tale of Spookley the Square Pumpkin who is teased by the other pumpkins because he is square. Eventually, Spookley saves their lives during a storm.
Reminiscent of a certain reindeer? But a great lesson, Farmer John and his wife Eda believe. “Pumpkins are like people,” he says. “They come in all sizes, colors and shapes but inside, we are all the same.”
Daylight Farms has been in business since 1947, growing produce and flowers. Farmer John began the pumpkin patch some 12 years ago so more families could share the farm experience complete with a hay ride, the chance to climb on an old tractor and of course, take lots of photos. But, he adds, “We keep it a real farm!” His daughters, son-in-law and two grandchildren aged six and eight help.
“Farming is about sharing our community,” Farmer John explains. “We talk about respecting the land. It is about getting the kids out in the fields. We want kids to understand that we are producing the best produce we can for them to eat as healthy as possible.”
Locally, it is also increasingly about restaurants like Pasta Moon, Sam’s Chowder House, the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and even the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay serving what Farmer John and other farmers here are growing. (Stop at the farm stands along State Route 92, the east-west highway.) He loads up my daughter with garlic, potatoes, arugula, onions, squash, fresh eggs and more—some of the same veggies we’ll eat for lunch at the Ritz-Carlton’s Conservatory.
I order their pasta with Daylight Farm Arugula, basil, and local olive oil, in fact, smiling thinking of standing in the field with Farmer John.
In the fall, the Ritz-Carlton will use a lot of Farmer John’s pumpkins, says Chef Alvin De La Cruz. There will be pumpkin decorations, pumpkin dishes and all October, a series of cooking classes featuring pumpkin dishes. “When the food is local, the guests feel connected,” he said. “I really build the menu on what’s available.
“It’s a trend all over,” says the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Executive Chef Xavier Salomon, lavishing praise on Farmer John, his “Number One supplier.”
“People want to know where their food comes from.” That’s especially true for families, he suggests, especially if they’ve had the chance to meet a farmer and see where their food comes from. “Kids are more interested in food, ” he said, more willing to try new dishes.
“We’ve made the kids’ menu much healthier and it is working. Definitely, we’re doing a lot better.”
Thanks, Farmer John.