Swiss pumpkin farmers plough through the competition
Europe's top pumpkin party gets underway in Zurich on Saturday, and the stars of the show are two Swiss farmers, who have literally taken the art of pumpkin growing to new heights.
Martin and Beat Jucker have built their careers around the humble pumpkin, and on Saturday expect to attract 15,000 people to "European Halloween Festival 2000" - an all-night party to celebrate both the occasion and the vegetable.
The six dance floors at the festival will be strewn with thousands of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, and the party will continue into the early hours of Sunday.
The Halloween party is just the Juckers' latest pumpkin project. Earlier this month, they tried to get into the Guinness book of Records by brewing up what they hoped was the world's largest pumpkin soup in the tiny village of Seegräben in Zurich's Oberland.
More than 10,000 pumpkin lovers came along to provide moral support, and to eat up the 2,757 litres of soup.
The Juckers are also behind the world's largest pumpkin exhibition currently running in the German town of Ludwigsburg. On show are 600,000 pumpkins of 300 different varieties, including the world's largest, which was specially flown in from the United States.
The remarkable success story of the pumpkin in Switzerland started only three years ago when the Juckers, sons of fruit farmers, were looking for new products.
"We tested a lot of things and one was a pumpkin. In our first year in 1997, we grew 50 tonnes and people seemed to like them. This year we've produced 5,000 tonnes and now we're a pumpkin farm," 28-year-old Martin Jucker told swissinfo.
The Juckers produce most of the pumpkins themselves but have set up a company, Jucker Farmart, which includes eight other farmers.
A visit to the farm in Seegräben is quite an experience. The farm is open to the public and there are about 20 tonnes of pumpkins currently on display. A shop sells everything from eggs, fruit and wine to pumpkin recipe books, pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin bread.
"You can use pumpkins for decoration and you can make pies and soups. They give colour. Autumn is usually all grey but the pumpkins bring the colours back," says Jeannine Blarer, who looks after marketing.
The Juckers' success has not gone unnoticed by the Swiss business community. Earlier this year, they won second place for entrepreneurship at the Swiss Economic Forum, an event for young businessmen and women.
It was no mean achievement to put the spotlight on agriculture against tough competition from the high-tech start-ups.
"It was recognition by experts in the economy for what we've done and we are proud of it, but we have to look towards the future," says Martin Jucker.
"We want to position Jucker Farmart among the 100 best-known brands in Europe. We want an innovative and serious image with a clear event-oriented marketing strategy," he adds.
The Juckers and their employees are working harder than normal because of the pumpkin season but Martin Jucker says the fun involved helps make the hours seem shorter. "I think about pumpkins the whole day. In fact, my girlfriend says I think too much about them."
She should be comforted, or perhaps not. The Juckers are also planning to expand their pumpkin business into growing melons and strawberries.
by Robert Brookes
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