When the Pumpkin Festival ends, the feast is just beginning

  • Big Mama the pig eagerly bites into a pumpkin at Petal Pushers Farm on Parade Road in Laconia on Monday. Eventually, the 6,000 pumpkins from Laconia’s pumpkin festival will end up at the farm to feed the chickens, turkeys and pigs. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Turkeys at Petal Pushers Farm enjoy a pumpkin snack. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Some of the 6,000 pumpkins from the festival fill a dumpster parked at the Department of Public Works in Laconia on Monday. The dumpsters can only be filled half way with the pumpkins because of their weight.

  • Some of the 6,000 pumpkins in a dumpster parked at the Department of Public Works in Laconia Monday. The dumpsters can only be filled half full with the pumpkins because of their weight. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/24/2016 11:43:27 PM

Big Mama and her eight children love Laconia’s pumpkin festival.

Especially when it’s done.

That’s when this family of nine get to enjoy some fine dining. They’ll have pumpkins for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night snacks, brunch, dessert, you name it, day after day, week after week, month after month.

Six thousand pumpkins go their way, and the pigs just love them. No baking necessary. Just throw them on the ground in the pig pens at Petal Pushers Farm in Laconia and watch pumpkins disappear under a swarm of piglets and a parent the size of two offensive linemen for the New England Patriots.

“When they see the pumpkins coming, they’re ready for them,” said Tricia Monty, a 35-year-old farmhand at Petal Pushers.

Who knew pigs loved pumpkins this much? And who knew the feature attractions from the festival, held in Laconia for the second time after 24 years in Keene, end up as the main course for the animals at Petal Pushers?

Now you do. One dumpster of pumpkins had arrived by Monday afternoon, and another 16 were due today, giving Big Mama, all 700 pounds of her, lots to look forward to this holiday season. The chickens and turkeys at Pat Gianunzio’s farm will also enjoy this long-running menu.

“We used up all the pumpkins we had last year,” Gianunzio told me Monday morning at the farm he’s owned for 25 years. “They ate them all.”

Gianunzio pointed to a huge woodchip pile, where a deep hole had been dug to hold the pumpkins due for delivery. From there, employees like Monty toss them over fences, to the estimated 10 turkeys and dozens of hens, for tasty treats. For Big Mama and her family, a mechanized loader scoops the pumpkins and drops them into the pen.

As an appetizer, while waiting for the special delivery of dumpsters, Monty gave the animals a few leftover pumpkins from the recent harvest, a small hint of what was to come.

The birds ate the pumpkins like, well, birds, pecking and stabbing at their meals with table etiquette. Big Mama and her piglets? They ate pumpkins, like, well pigs, tearing and snorting and chomping.

“They turn them over and munch all the inside guts,” Monty said. “Our pigs will eat most of it. Outside and inside and seeds and everything.”

Big Mama can thank what happened in Keene two years ago for this feast, now in its second year in Laconia. Rioting occurred in 2014, reportedly caused by college students, most of whom had come to the festival from out of town. Beer bottles were thrown, fires were lit, a car was overturned and cops got mad.

The Keene city council opted not to renew the festival’s license, and Laconia officials, led by Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce President Karmen Gifford and others, seized the opportunity to add some color to their downtown.

Orange, mostly.

Schools and businesses began carving jack-o’-lanterns weeks before the festival, leading to a tower of 800 pumpkins in the center of town and streets lined with thousands more.

After the festival, wagons and grocery carts were wheeled out, setting up a Pumpkin Dump Derby, an all-out clean-up activity in which residents moved the pumpkins to Hanover Street and placed them in dumpsters. Then, they were brought to the city’s Department of Public Works.

Only one of 17 dumpsters had left the DPW for the farm by the afternoon, with the rest due today.

No one seemed to mind, however.

Except, perhaps, Big Mama and the kids.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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