After years of watching my son and his wife turn a humble row of gourd vines into a booming business here on our farm, I have come to realize just how special this hard-shelled cucurbit has become, not only to our family, but to a multitude of art enthusiasts in the U.S. and beyond.
Gourds are the only inedible species in a genus of plants that includes squash, pumpkins and cucumbers, to name a few. So you can’t eat them, right? Then, why are gourds so special?
I had been asking myself this question the first year of Waylon’s gourd venture, when my good friend and artist, Marilu Savage, visited one day. She picked several weird-shaped, bumpy and otherwise unsightly gourds from the field and took them home. Several weeks later, she returned with a beautiful hand-carved painted bowl, a Native American doll and a regulation-sized football that still baffles visitors who see it.
At the same time, I witnessed potential customers rummaging through some 20 varieties of gourds, proclaiming, “Here’s a perfect birdhouse. This looks like a quail. Oh my, a madonna. Hmm, I know, I can make something out of this one.” On and on came excited remarks by ordinary folks who visited the farm. Many returned to show off their works of art with a beaming smile of accomplishment.
It was then that I began to realize the powerful transformation taking place, not only in the gourds, but in the people who selected them. Now, as our nationally acclaimed 17th annual “Running of the Gourds” festival approaches, I realize that the real “gourd life” means much more than a bumper crop of gourds, or higher profits. It goes deeper than widespread media recognition, high festival attendance or my own personal sense of achievement helping to organize this event.
Time and again, I’ve heard reluctant first-time “gourders” proclaim that they aren’t really creative. Yet, every time a human soul picks up a gourd and sees beyond its exterior imperfections to the masterpiece waiting to unfold, he or she becomes more aware of the creative energy that dwells within themselves. What greater, more satisfying crop can a farmer grow than a crusty “food” for feeding one’s inner self?
As with many awe-inspiring claims, one must see it to believe it. So come to the gourd festival Feb. 7-9 at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center. Friday and Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it's 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Kathy Wuertz is a co-owner of Wuertz Farms.