Pumpkin festival draws 30,000 visitors

Sunday, October 14, 2007 | 9:58 p.m. CDT; updated 2:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

HARTSBURG — Hartsburg seems to have the “it” factor.

“We don’t know what makes the festival work, but we’re doing something right,” Jo Hackman, pumpkin farmer and Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival committee member, said.

Her farm pulled several thousand pumpkins for the 16th annual festival, which was heavily attended Sunday afternoon.

An estimated 30,000 visitors made the trip down to the Missouri River bottoms on Sunday, more than triple Saturday’s turnout, which was down from its usual count because of rain.

“People are in a good mood, and it’s such a beautiful, sun-shiny day,” Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant said.

Both Hackman and Grant attributed the festival’s success to the uniqueness and hospitality of Hartsburg.

“There’s a charm about this town that others don’t have,” Grant said. “This festival is evident of that.”

Drawing visitors from throughout the state, the annual festival also attracted many seasoned attendees, such as Jessica White of Columbia.

“We have a lot of family around here, so it’s kind of like a family reunion for us,” White said. “An aunt and uncle will be manning one booth, cousins another.”

She also finds many Christmas gift ideas at the festival as well.

The warm temperatures and clear skies above the corn and soy bean fields attracted so many visitors that the corn fields-turned-parking lots left visitors walking more than half a mile to the festival.

Cpl. John Keener of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department said his team hasn’t had any major issues besides Saturday’s weather.

More than 220 vendors were on hand, hoping to not only make a profit from the day, but also to spread the word about their business.

The customary festival aromas of corn dogs, funnel cakes and kettle corn offered a variety to visitors.

The Wilson Boat Club, however, added something else to the mix: fried catfish. The booth selling fried boneless filets serves as the nonprofit organization’s sole fundraiser for the year. Profits pay for maintenance of the group’s shelter and boat ramp on the banks of the Missouri River east of Wilton. “Our club is for members who have an interest in commercial fishing in the area, specifically Boone County,” Ragan Sappington, whose husband, Jim, is a member, said.

Established in 1979, the group caps membership at 33 and was looking to make approximately $2,000.

“We were extremely busy,” Sappington said. “We did better today than we have on Sundays in past years.”

Robert Verslues offered products such as honey in bear-shapped bottles, lip balm, hand cream and wax soap.

More than three million bees makes Verslues’ honey business sweet. “I’ve got 100 hives, which make over 4,000 pounds of honey,” he said.

Born and raised on a farm, Verslues said an uncle got him into the bee business when hives were the thing to have 60 years ago.

“I’ve had bees for the last 10 years, but have gotten bigger over the four (years) since I retired,” Verslues said.

While the honey season starts early in the year, Verslues spends the preceding months preparing the frames and boxes for their eventual inhabitants. Each honey comb can house anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 bees, depending on the strength of the hive.

Verslues’ decades of police work left him with fond memories, but the satisfaction of raising bees result in a much sweeter payoff.

“There’s a good feeling in (selling) it because people get off allergy shots, medicines and it can help with sunburns,” Verslues said of bee pollen, one of his best-selling items.

“It’s an all-around product, it’s like gold,” he said.

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