autumn

America's best harvest festivals

Sep. 26, 2012 at 6:17 PM ET

Photo © Mickey Pullen /
Every year at The Keene New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, pumpkin enthusiasts gather to stack lit jack-o-lanterns into gigantic glowing towers in hopes of breaking the world record.

From a Kiss the Pig contest in Dallas to an heirloom tomato tasting at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, harvest festivals celebrate local agriculture across the country.

The residents of Keene, New Hampshire, gather every year around pumpkin harvest—but mostly to try and win back the world record in most lit jack-o-lanterns at a single event. Their current high is 29,762, which was bested by Highwood, Ill., in 2011 with 30,919 pumpkins.

Slideshow: See the best harvest festivals

In Massachusetts, the primary spectacle at the Cranberry Harvest Festival is the actual gathering of the fruit, which takes place over large expanses of flooded cranberry fields. On offer are snacks that feature the tart red berries, like cranberry doughnuts and cranberry-apple fritters.

This year's Sonoma County Harvest Fair in California begins with a grand tasting of 100 of the county's top wineries like Hanna, Balletto and Alexander Valley Vineyards, as well as food from fantastic local restaurants and purveyors like Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery and Valley Ford Cheese.

But Sonoma's World Championship Grape Stomp is the tradition that keeps visitors coming back. Teams of two—one stomper and one swabby (the person filling jugs with juice)—compete to stomp the most juice by weight. “There are some families that have been in this thing for generations; their kids are now stomping,” says Jack Wolf, a representative of the fair. “In the case of the champions from last year, the wife had replaced her partner—who was her husband—with her son, and they’ve been winning. I guess the kid has big feet.”

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