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Great pumpkin grown in MinnesotaGreat pumpkin grown in Minnesota

Travis Gienger’s gourd weighs 2,749 pounds and claims the world record.

Kevin Schulz

October 20, 2023

3 Min Read
Travis Gienger gets excited at a pumpkin weighing contest
GIGANTIC CELEBRATION: Travis Gienger celebrates after the weight of his pumpkin, dubbed Michael Jordan, came in at 2,749 pounds, giving him the new world record. The previous record of 2,702 pounds was set two years ago by an Italian grower.Courtesy of Travis Gienger

A Minnesota pumpkin grower has taken the world by storm.

Growing pumpkins is in Travis Gienger’s blood. He remembers as a pre-teen helping his dad grow 80- to 100-pound Big Max gourds.

“I just took care of the garden growing up, when I was 10 or 12 years old,” he says. “And then when I was 14, I grew a pretty big one, a 447-pounder. At that time, that was pretty dang big, and it kind of got it all started for me.”

That 447-pounder would be dwarfed by the 2,749-pound pumpkin that Gienger trailered to Half Moon Bay, Calif., for the 50th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. On Oct. 9, Gienger’s pumpkin that he dubbed Michael Jordan took top prize at the weigh-in and claimed a world record as the heaviest pumpkin ever grown. This pumpkin boasts a 21-foot circumference.

Though Gienger doesn’t have a moniker such as Pumpkin Prince, Pumpkin King or Gourd Lord, this year’s prized pumpkin pays homage to Michael Jordan, “because it’s the year ’23 [Michael Jordan’s jersey number], and he’s the greatest basketball player of all time.”

Gienger’s MJ outdistanced the second-place pumpkin by 252 pounds, and by MJ being crowned the world’s largest Gienger brings home a cash prize of $30,000. That distance between first and second may have been even greater had fate not taken another great pumpkin that “honestly, I don’t think that thing would have been under 3,000 pounds. But I lost that one Aug. 17 with just a tiny little rib split.”

This was Gienger’s third year at the California competition, missing 2021 because of a number of issues in the home patch. His entry last year earned him the North American record.

Growing a record pumpkin

Of course, one doesn’t grow a pumpkin without seeds, and he says the Atlantic Giant “is the one you want to grow,” he says. Though pumpkin growing at this level is competitive, it is friendly competition as growers exchange seeds, and the seeds for this world winner came from a pumpkin in New York.

“My seed went all around the world last year,” he says. “Now it’s going to be a hot seed.”

His three decades of experience have taught him a thing or two about growing pumpkins, as well as tapping into one of his day jobs. He is a part-time turf and golf course management instructor at Anoka Technical College. He is also a stone craftsman who operates Waterstone Fire Tables in Anoka, Minn.

Acquiring sponsors over the winter helps Gienger with fertilizers and soil biology to boost those seeds to greater weights. “We’re using just a ton of different soil biologicals in microbes to get these things cranking, and I think that was the difference,” he says. “Micronutrients are huge. But not only the micronutrients, but the mycorrhizae, bacillus, Trichoderma for disease prevention.”

He estimates on average he spends about $2,000 per plant to achieve world status.

Starting the seeds on April 10, and then feeding the plants and the soil, and watering up to 12 times a day, Gienger babies the plants.

Obviously, the nurturing pays off all the way to the record books.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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