Can stress baking really lead to a faux pumpkin shortage?
Sort of. But it also led to an opportunity to tell the pumpkin story far beyond Illinois agriculture. Like, with The Pioneer Woman.
Earlier this fall, Andrea Casali, Illinois Farm Bureau media relations specialist, heard tales of over-eager fall bakers heading to the grocery store and finding an empty shelf where their favorite canned pumpkin usually sits. Like most reasonable people in 2020, they feared pumpkin might be the next toilet paper.
“We knew the pumpkin supply was normal, and we saw the opportunity to set the record straight,” Casali says, especially when a freelance writer for Allrecipes.com reached out.
Casali set up interviews with Raghela Scavuzzo, who works with specialty crops for IFB, and with Morton, Ill., pumpkin farmer John Ackerman.
Before long, the story was on allrecipes.com, with Scavuzzo proclaiming, “There is not a shortage!” She explained that the spring rains delayed planting and resulted in a slightly later harvest, and added that while it’s not a bumper crop, it’s still a good, normal pumpkin crop this year. Normal supply, no shortage.
The real problem may have been over-eager COVID-19 bakers, and who can blame them?
Scavuzzo says pumpkin harvest in Illinois usually starts in early September; this year it was delayed to mid- to late September, which created the illusion of a shortage on grocery shelves. As of mid-October, she says, processing pumpkins have been harvested and are at processing facilities now — and many are on shelves already. About 85% of the world’s canned pumpkin is packed in the Libby’s plant in Morton, Ill.
“There should be a steady supply for the season, unless people panic purchase. When people panic purchase, that can create an unplanned shortage,” Scavuzzo says.
Ornamental pumpkin sales are incredibly strong, Scavuzzo reports, despite COVID-19 regulations.
Those farms are another reason Casali wanted to get in front of the “pumpkin shortage” story. “If people think there’s a shortage of either ornamental or canning pumpkins, they might skip the U-pick farm. And we know farmers really count on those sales, so we needed to start talking,” she says.
Casali’s work is still getting mileage, a full month after the initial interviews were done — and that’s something in a fast-paced digital news cycle. The story even segued into another piece on aluminum shortage in Real Simple (spoiler alert: It’s not affecting pumpkin either). The initial story has been picked up on several sites, including Parents.com, Yahoo Lifestyles, Food and Wine, and even The Pioneer Woman.
For Casali, that last one might have been the sweetest: “You know you’ve made it when you’re in Pioneer Woman!”