Exploring the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture: November Specialty Crops
Wisconsin’s agriculture industry contributes $104.8 billion to our economy each year! From growing to harvesting and food processing, farmers and processors across our state work hard every day to provide an abundance of delicious produce.
When most people think of Wisconsin agriculture, commodities like dairy, corn, and soybeans come to mind. While those commodities are a very important part of our state’s agriculture industry, there is so much more to Wisconsin agriculture. Wisconsin is a leading producer in many specialty crops, which are “fruit and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture)” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the coming months, I encourage you to join me as I explore some of Wisconsin’s tasty and nutritious specialty crops.
This November we are focusing on two of Wisconsin’s most orange specialty crops: pumpkins and carrots.
When I think of pumpkins, I think of carving spooky characters during Halloween, going on hayrides through pumpkin patches, and homemade pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner. With more than 2,300 acres across Wisconsin dedicated to growing pumpkins and a $3 million contribution to our state’s economy every year, pumpkins are an important part of Wisconsin agriculture. In fact, there is even a state championship contest for the largest pumpkin grown in Wisconsin! In 2021, Caleb Jacobus grew the state’s largest pumpkin, weighing in at over 2,000 pounds!
The word pumpkin comes from the Greek word “pepon,” which in English translates to “large melon.” Pumpkins are also one of the oldest known crops grown in the western hemispheres. While pumpkin picking does not start until the fall or winter months, pumpkins are planted around June every year.
Pumpkins are extremely versatile and can be used for much more than carving a ghost during Halloween. They are jam packed with Vitamin A and antioxidants and can be used to cook plenty of yummy desserts like pumpkin bars or made into delicious cheesy baked pumpkin pasta!
Did you know Wisconsin ranks first in the U.S. for the production of carrots for food processing? As one of our state’s top specialty crops, carrots contribute approximately $8 million to our state’s economy.
Carrots were first grown for food in Afghanistan in 900 B.C. but the orange carrots we know best were not grown until much later when it was developed in Holland as a tribute to William of Orange during the Dutch fight for independence. Pilgrims brought orange carrot seeds with them when they settled in the U.S. and planted them all across the country.
You may have heard once or twice that eating carrots is good for your eyesight, and they are right! Carrots are rich in many different vitamins and minerals but are best known as being an excellent source of beta-carotene, which helps with eyesight. This crisp, crunch vegetable can be eaten by dipping it into a creamy ranch dressing made with Wisconsin dairy products or cooking them into delicious desserts like carrot cheese cake.