A spooky statistic: most edible pumpkins end up in the trash

More than 2,500 farms in Canada produce 80 thousand metric tonnes of pumpkins each year, with about two-thirds sold fresh to customers. The vast majority isn’t used for food, but for Halloween decorations.

Pumpkins are a largely wasted food source, but they force Canadians to engage with farming and food production

Rob Galey owns Galey Farms Corn Maze, Market & Railway in Victoria, B.C. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

In the coming weeks, millions of Canadians will buy a nutritious, tasty, affordable product. But they won't eat it.

Instead, they'll carve it, use it as a decoration for a couple of weeks and then toss it in the compost bin or, worse yet, the garbage.

While most pumpkins sold these days are used for decorating at Halloween, that wasn't always the case. Early European settlers to North America treated pumpkin as a staple food crop.

Now, it's a staple marketing trend. Some examples of the pumpkin-flavoured food trend include lattes, beer, Oreo cookies, Cheerios, ice cream, energy bars and cream cheese. Most of those items don't contain actual pumpkin.

They're not buying food; they're buying a metaphor

Rob Galey grows crops that people eat, like berries, corn and potatoes. But it's the pumpkin harvest that attracts thousands of ticket-buying customers to his farm each year.

"We have hayrides going down to the pumpkin patch [where] you can pick your own," said Galey. "We got the petting farm. We got the train with a mile of track [that] takes you around the farm [and] shows you all the crops. We got the corn maze."

It's called Pumpkin Fest and it's been an annual tradition for almost 20 years. Galey admits that most visitors likely won't take pumpkins home to cook and eat.

But he says they're not buying food; they're buying a metaphor. The pumpkin represents the abundant fall harvest. Plus, they make for great photo ops.

An excuse to engage with food production

There are more than 2,500  farms in Canada with pumpkin patches, according to Statistics Canada. Collectively, they produce 80 thousand metric tonnes of pumpkins, with about two-thirds sold fresh to customers.

Most of those, however, are never eaten. Instead, we carve faces in them, light them up and throw them out.

But Galey doesn't mind that his pumpkins don't make it onto the dinner table. Instead, he says, they get urbanites out to his rural farm to get engaged with food production. Potatoes and corn don't do that, he says. Pumpkins do.

Galley Farms offers hayrides to the pumpkin patch and allows visitors to choose their own Halloween pumpkin.

The pumpkins pull in so many people that Galey's workers need to restock the field each night with new pumpkins for the next day.

"We don't want to get picked down where there is very little selection. We have many other pumpkin patches. If we're short a certain kind or size, we'll bring some down here to keep a great selection going," said Galey.

While the pumpkin might not end up on many dinner plates these days, it does draw hordes of visitors through farm gates each fall. Visitors that might end up learning something about farming and food production along the way.


Khalil Akhtar

Food Columnist

Khalil Akhtar is a syndicated food columnist for CBC Radio. He takes a weekly look at some of the surprising aspects of your daily diet. Khalil is based in Victoria, B.C.


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