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October 7, 2013

Gloucester-grown pumpkin is fair runner-up

City man's pumpkin is runner-up in fair weigh-off

TOPSFIELD — The Topsfield Fair crowned a hometown winner in its giant pumpkin weigh-off: Woody Lancaster, who grew a 1,746.5-pound whopper in his Topsfield yard.

But a Gloucester man who had captured the top prize in 2011 took home second place this year, as well, with a locally grown entry that topped the three-quarter-ton mark.

Peter Denigris took second place in the competition Friday night with a 1,544-pound pumpkin he grew in his West Gloucester yard. He’s been growing giant pumpkins for more than 15 years and took first place at the 2011 fair with a 1,668 pounder.

This year’s entry was his “last chance” pumpkin, the only fruit that didn’t fail in a tough growing season. He started the seed indoors and transplanted the plant outside on April 28, he said.

“It was a slow grower, so it teased me all summer long,” Denigris said.

So, why spend all this time and effort on growing pumpkins?

“It’s fun,” Denigirs answered, breaking into a smile.

This year’s weigh-off drew just 28 entries this year, roughly half of an average year. Growers chalked it up to a hard season with erratic weather.

“It was a very, very tough year,” said George Hoomis of Ipswich, whose pumpkin weighed in at 1,442.5 pounds — his personal best in 18 years of growing. “Most people are happy just to have something here (at the fair).”

Friday night’s triumph marked the first time Lancaster has earned the Topsfield Fair’s top prize. He’s been growing giant pumpkins for 15 years; he took second place last year with a 1,649-pounder.

Smiling, Lancaster admitted he was feeling “a little weak-kneed” once he found out he was the 2013 winner.

“It was just a special seed, a lot of hard work, and it just worked,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster’s peach-colored gourd was the last of the night to be weighed. Once the official weight was announced, his wife, Cindy, son Alan, and many of the other growers enveloped Lancaster in hugs, handshakes and claps on the back.

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