Operation Pumpkin founders Jason and Tammy Synder of Butler County are passionate about giant pumpkins. The Synder’s have also always loved the charm and historic beauty of downtown Hamilton, and they saw a need to have a local festival to showcase the city.
The success of Operation Pumpkin is that it’s a fun, fall festival with giant pumpkins. The event is also bringing people downtown, so they can see everything it has to offer.
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“It went from ‘I want my kid to have the biggest pumpkin to why can’t I grow the biggest pumpkin for her,’ and it took off from there. The next thing you know, he (Jason) has a 917-pound pumpkin in a weigh-off of his own,” says Operation Pumpkin co-founder Tammy Synder.
Now, in fun, Tammy and Jason have nicknames like “Mrs. Pumpkin,” or “The Pumpkin Man.” But, beyond that, they have created a festival for everyone to enjoy.
Operation Pumpkin is in its sixth year. The festival will be held on Friday, Oct. 13, through Sunday, Oct. 15. For the latest details, go online to www.operation-pumpkin.org.
We talked to Jason and Tammy to find out more about their love for Hamilton, the excitement of filming an episode for national television, and what they enjoy the most about Operation Pumpkin.
Q: Why did you want to start Operation Pumpkin?
Jason: Two reasons. One, I think I'll have to start saying this past tense, I was a giant pumpkin grower. I haven't grown (pumpkins) since we started the event, because the event is too time consuming, and so is growing those pumpkins, and having a family. We have three daughters, Carrington, 17; Avery, 8 and Burke, 6. There's just no way we could do both. The first reason was I was a grower, and we used to travel all over to enter my pumpkins in the weigh-offs, and Tammy and I had recently moved to the area and we loved the downtown. At the time, downtown was struggling and we thought the traffic through town wasn't really noticing the charm and historic beauty of the downtown, and we thought, "We should try to make that traffic stop." When we started the event six short years ago, the downtown had a vacancy rate of 95 percent (a majority of the storefronts were empty). Today, it's a 100 percent occupied. Tammy and I aren't taking credit for that, but I think we helped to some degree.
Q: Why do you feel committed to bring Operation Pumpkin to town?
Tammy: Everybody loves it. We enjoy it, too. … It's what we wanted. It's growing and moving. It's just another added activity and event to the town. I truly believe people enjoy it. Hamilton has grown so much, and it has so much to offer.
Q: How have you seen Operation Pumpkin grow and evolve since its inception six years ago?
Jason: Well, attendance has obviously gone up, tremendously. The first year, we estimated we had around 12,000 to 15,000 over the three days. This past year, it was estimated we had between 35,000 and 40,000 in three days. When Tammy and I first started this, every weekend, we were going to other events all over the Tri-state, trying to solicit vendors to come to our event, trying to convince them that Hamilton is beautiful, it's a great place, and to give it a shot. That was a challenge. There was a mental block with a lot of the crafters and artists, that they just didn't feel they could sell any of their products in the Hamilton area. Now, we don't have to go to any of those events. The vendors call us. Unfortunately, we had to turn some vendors away this year, because, one, either they didn't meet our qualifications, and two, we didn't have the room for them. So, we've seen that change since year one. Also, the same thing is true when it comes to the entertainment. We were out there beating the pavement, begging acts to come perform downtown. I think the (RiversEdge) Amphitheater in downtown has been a huge asset to Hamilton, and a tremendous help to us, because it has brought a lot of out-of-towner's in town to see those concerts. Today, the entertainment acts want to keep performing in Hamilton. Now, entertainers contact us, and they want to be a part of our events as opposed to us trying to seek them out. Also, the downtown has really rallied around us.
Q: What kind of feedback have you heard from the community. What do festivalgoers love about Operation Pumpkin?
Tammy: They love seeing everybody out and interacting with one another. Everybody thinks it's pretty neat having the street closed down. It is a fairly small community, and everybody knows each other. It's one way to bring thousands of people together. They can enjoy themselves, relax and have the whole family there. They can enjoy all things pumpkin.
Q: What are you most excited about this year?
Jason: The fact that we've drawn the attention of a national television channel or show. In five short years, going into our sixth year, I'm pretty excited about that. I'm excited for what that will bring to us in the future. What kind of crowd's we'll be looking at, what vendors will be coming our way, people from all areas of the United States, and how many people will see the program and say, 'Hey, I want to go and check out Hamilton, Ohio.' I'm excited for the upcoming exposure.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the festival?
Tammy: To see the young kids, and the expressions on their faces when they see these giant pumpkins and the sculpted pumpkins, something that they probably wouldn't have had a chance to see firsthand, otherwise. I don't know if this comes from being a parent, but it warms your heart to see the kids getting so much enjoyment out of it. Some of the fourth graders who decorated pumpkins may not have been able to get a pumpkin, otherwise. So, I feel like that's one small, little thing that might bring some joy or happiness to them.
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