Pumpkin carver Mike Valladao with a pumpkin masterpiece of a bearded fellow.
Now a fixture at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival, and known worldwide, “Farmer Mike” Valladao has established himself with his intricate pumpkin carvings with full-featured faces.
The man in the orange overalls’ interest in growing pumpkins was sparked years ago, when he saw the world’s largest pumpkin at the Half Moon Bay festival. He uses his buck knife and chisels to create most of his detail work on the pumpkins that weigh anywhere from 100 pounds to more than a half ton.
“I forgot about it, then my aunt gave me a call and said ‘what’s going on with the pumpkins?’” he said.
Carving then became a necessity for Valladao.
“I had these giant pumpkins and nothing to do with them,” said Valladao, who was born in California, but moved to Louisiana at an early age and grew up there. “The following year I was the official pumpkin carver for Half Moon Bay.”
Since the late ’80s, Valladao has continued his carvings at the Half Moon Bay festival, but also has a day job as a director of project management for Gigamon, LLC. His carvings even landed him an appearance on the Tonight Show.
What keeps him coming back year after year?
“I enjoy it; it’s a great time to interact with crowds,” he said. “It’s fun. I like to create a spark in people’s eyes. It creates memories and Halloween in my mind it is all about imagination.”
Half Moon Bay is always a fun venue, he said, since it’s outside and many attendees will sit back and watch him for a while. At the Half Moon Bay festival, he carved from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., taking breaks only to each lunch, to talk to crowds and to check how the pumpkin looked from the audience perspective. He works other gigs across the country as well and even had his son fill in for him at one event when he wasn’t available.
“I’m very booked this time of year,” he said. “I’ve been working Monday through Thursday in San Jose [at Gigamon], and [last] Thursday night I will go to state fair of Texas and carve all day.”
He has only competed once as a pumpkin carver though, about a quarter of a century ago.
“Well over a quarter century ago, Tree Top Apple Juice put on a competition,” Valladao said. “When I received the prize, I got a note that said I was professional pumpkin carver and was no longer allowed to compete. I will only carve pumpkins if someone’s paying me to do it.”
Further, Valladao also doesn’t do too many private events since he likes to have a bigger view per population.
How long do his carvings last?
“Pumpkin is a piece of fruit,” he said. “Once you carve off the protective skin, they last anywhere from three days to weeks.”
Valladao is also the author of Farmer Mike Grows Giant Pumpkins.
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