BENTON CITY -- Chances are the pumpkins you picked up at the grocery store to carve up for Halloween this year were grown somewhere in Benton County.
Robert Cox Farms of Benton City supplies all the pumpkins sold by Walmart, Albertsons, Yoke's Fresh Markets, Fred Meyer, Winco and a number of smaller grocery outlets in the Northwest, said Cody Elliot, son of the farm's owner Robert Cox.
The 250-acre farm, started more than 50 years ago by Robert Cox Sr., father of the current owner, began as a door-to-door venture. He would load up the pumpkins he grew into a wagon and visit neighbors trying to sell them.
Over the years it has grown into the largest producer of the bright, orange gourds in the Northwest and one of the largest on the West Coast, Elliott says.
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The farm, located in rural Benton City, grows enough pumpkins to fill 6,000 of its 800-pound bins in a season.
Each pumpkin seed produces four to six pumpkins, ranging in weight from 1 to 50 pounds.
Of the 31 varieties of pumpkins on the market, Cox Farms grows seven. Requests for color, size, shape and weight are specific for each client.
Seeds are planted no later than June 15 and the last day of harvest is Oct. 31. This year's crop was planted May 15 and picking began Aug. 28.
Eight members of the Cox family are involved in the daily operation of the farm and the farm employ 20 to 40 day laborers to pick, clean and load the product.
Each pumpkin in the labor-intensive operation is selected in the field where it is cut and stacked in long rows by a team of field workers. Another team then walks down each row selecting and cleaning the gourds.
One worker picks, inspects, cleans and tosses the pumpkin to a second person, who then tosses it to a third person on a trailer. It then is handed to another worker who loads the pumpkin into a cardboard packing bin.
If the customer wants an identifying label on the pumpkin, that's another person's job.
Once all the bins on the trailer are filled, a tractor delivers them to the shipping yard, where another group of employees organizes the shipment and loads it onto one of the waiting semi-trailers. Other workers inspect, clean and sort the shipment and construct more cardboard bins.
From there it's to market and then likely into the hands of someone to turn it into a jack-o'-lantern for Halloween night.