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We like them bumpy, lumpy and ugly

Pumpkins, that is. People too ... perhaps. Character, uniqueness. At least that's how we consul ourselves. Smile.

I know the seasons are changing when pumpkins begin arriving at local stores, heralding the beginning of my most favorite season. A season of warmth, of hope, and promise.

For a simple round burnt orange fruit that denotes for most of us that quiet, country setting; pumpkins are anything but ... simple. Other than simply delicious, that is.

Pumpkins, in the agricultural world, have quite the reputation. Did you know that more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown each year in the United States, making them the most popular crop grown? Who would have thought? My guess was corn. Top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.

Do you remember those childhood pumpkin hunting trips? The ones where few in your group agreed on exactly what constituted the "perfect" pumpkin. Was it tall, short and squat, perfect, unblemished, a flat side that could be hidden? In my family ... it was perfectly round with just the right healthy stem. Today, the Wilsons get one of each. The Cinderella pumpkin being my pick, then there is the tall and skinny, and the short and round. But warty? A definite possibility.

Collecting misshapen, twisted, lumpy, bumpy, warty pumpkins? Absolutely ... and we're not alone. People all over the country are opting for, it seems, the most blemished, warty pumpkins they can find. In fact, "Anything that's ugly or weird or unusual, it just sells like crazy," said Randy Graham, who grows 40 pumpkin varieties near Champaign, Ill.

People who take care of our money are taking note. The National Retail Federation estimates 68.5 million Americans will buy and carve pumpkins this year, a healthy 5 percent increase. In all, we will spend $1.63 billion on Halloween decorations. Hmmm ... I'll have to check the numbers for Christmas!

This warty craze? It's a few years old now ... but new for many of us. Some farmers discovered this misshapen demand quite by accident. Morton, Illinois, is home to many pumpkin farmers like John Ackerman, who have primarily sold their produce to Libby, the country's largest canned pumpkin supplier.

Ackerman now grows about 150 pumpkin varieties. As all good pumpkin farmers do, Ackerman started out growing big, perfectly beige pumpkins. One year, however, he had a hundred or so that couldn't be mechanically picked, they were down by the creek bed and were definitely not perfect. So he brought them home and displayed them in his front yard. "Amazingly, people started to stop and asked, 'Are those for sale?'" He made sales ... and a new twist on an old favorite was born.

What was once an inexpensive fall tradition has turned into an industry attracting numbers that take notice. I don't really mind the commercialization of these fun family traditions. As a fall purist, that seems strange. But I am well aware that for traditions to live on from generation to generation, they have to mean something to the people who celebrate them. And if they fall from commercial favor, our children will not continue ... and the tradition will simply die. Any tradition that causes families to have fun and make memories is worth keeping alive. And if that means over commercialization, so be it.

For me, pumpkins are not just about Halloween or fall. They are a symbol of the harvest, a symbol of provision, a symbol of growth and health, of rebirth, of blessing. A tiny seed planted in the spring can produce life that can weigh as much as 1810.5 pounds, as did the 2010 Stillwater, Minnesota, pumpkin on October 9, 2010.

This harvest season; light a candle, display your pumpkins, twisted or perfect, your gourds, cornstalks and mums; and be mindful of your plenty, your blessings ... your harvest.

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