The Real Life Pumpkin Queen!
Longtime fans of the Haus are no doubt aware that Pumpkin Queen has been a Fall tradition here since our very first year – but did you know that there is a real life Pumpkin Queen?
Sarah Frey, also known as The Pumpkin Queen
Farmer and entrepreneur Sarah Frey is widely known as the Pumpkin Queen due to being the largest commercial farmer of pumpkins in the entire country. In 2016 alone it is estimated that she grew and sold around 5 million pumpkins. The bulk of her pumpkin crops consist of pumpkins that are sold for carving. Interestingly, pumpkins were originally a secondary crop for her farming business.
Sarah Frey is the classic American success story – the youngest of 21 children, her family lived on an 80 acre farm in southern Illinois. With only a wood stove for heat and no running water until she was 5, learning to be resourceful was a necessity. Not that she was without a wild streak; in her memoirs she describes driving one of her parents' cars around the farm as a child whenever they left the kids at home unsupervised. That resourcefulness combined with the willingness to take risks would be the ticket to Frey's achievements.
Having moved out of her family home at the age of 15, she took over her mother's route selling melons to supermarkets and other retailers. She took out a loan for $10,000 to buy a better truck and eventually grew her client list from 20 to 150. At this point, she decided to jump in the deep end and approach the Walmart distribution center in her area to see if she could ink a deal with them to supply melons. The buyer was impressed enough by her business acumen at only 18 that they agreed to buy three truckloads. It was only after shaking on the deal that Frey describes realizing that he meant 3 semi truckloads and not the typical pickup truck loads she normally dealt in. Knowing there is no reward without risk, she pulled every string she had to get the contract filled. From there, the trajectory was all upwards. Soon she bought the mortgage to her family farm to save it from foreclosure and began to invest in land to grow her own crops to sell. From the original 80 acre farm that she purchased at the age of 18, her operations have expanded to 150,000 acres in 7 states.
Frey's entry into pumpkin growing began when she realized that they could be planted late enough in the season that they could extend her cultivation season beyond earlier season melons. Interestingly, while she continues to occupy the throne of pumpkin growing in the US, pumpkins remain her secondary crop. In addition to the revenue provided by the sales of whole melons, she founded a juice company, Tsamma, that sells watermelon-based juice drinks. This allows her to reduce waste by using the melons that would not normally be saleable. Tsamma is named after the local name for a sub-Saharan watermelon that is considered the originating variety of the fruit.