ELEVEN MILE CORNER — As the pandemic continued to surge a year ago, gourd grower Waylon Wuertz was in a quandary because with his February gourd festival approaching, vendors were canceling.
Within a span of a few weeks the vendors dropped from the 50 to 60 who had signed up early to about a dozen. Part of the reason, he thinks, is that a lot of people who attend the festival travel from California, and officials in that state strongly discouraged anyone from traveling as the coronavirus numbers soared.
“It hurt,” Wuertz said of not having a festival. “We had to pull money out of our 401(k) to make ends meet. We lost quite a chunk of change.”
Out of caution he closed down his gourd operations for about a month. The business became mail order only for a while.
He said the last thing he wanted to do was to pull money from his retirement fund, but it was the only option to continue to pay the bills.
Wuertz Farm raises more than 200,000 gourds each year.
He said 2020 was a tough year. Besides the pandemic, he said it was the hottest and driest summer he can remember.
He said not having a gourd festival for the first time also affected his customers, but it made little sense to have one since very few people could have attended.
Wuertz is planning to resume the three-day festival next February as customers have started to return. So far, 75 vendor spaces have been purchased with another four months to go.
This is the 21st year Wuertz has been growing gourds. The Wuertz farm has 500 acres to plant cotton, alfalfa and gourds. Some of the farm is not used to plant crops due to the lack of water needed to irrigate.
Most people, he said, make their plans to attend the festival in the first part of January.
The festival usually has more than 100 10-by-10-foot vendor spaces. Some vendors need more than one space.
“It should be an awesome festival,” he said of the event that will run from Feb. 11 to 13.
“I think everyone is excited to get out and start living again,” he said.
Gourds are like a blank canvas for artists, especially for fine arts and arts and crafts.
“It’s a way to show their artistic talent,” he said.
Gourds take about 180 days to grow followed by a one- to three-month drying period while still in the field.