WINDSOR —Minutes after the 2021 Windsor Fair opened Sunday, Bill Mackowski notched two big wins for himself and his wife, Francine.

The pair, from Milford, entered two jack-o’-lantern pumpkins they raised this summer, and they smashed the state record with both of them, surpassing the prize-winning weights of their 2019 entries.

On Sunday, fair fans from across the region and state began streaming toward the Windsor Fairgrounds on Ridge Road for the start of nine days of agricultural exhibits, livestock shows, races, 4-H events, fair food, rides, music and entertainment at Maine’s second-largest agricultural fair. The fair wraps up Monday, Sept. 6, which is Labor Day.

“We’ve been at it for a week or so,” longtime fair President Tom Foster said. “We’re pretty well ready to open. If it’s like all the other fairs have been, we’re expecting a great attendance. It’s been up at all the other ones.”

The Windsor Fair, like all of Maine’s agricultural fairs, is returning after a hiatus in 2020 driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. To slow the spread of the highly contagious disease, public health restrictions on gatherings and events were imposed shortly after the pandemic was declared in March 2020. They were lifted earlier this summer when the state of civil emergency was allowed to expire.

From his perch Sunday on a golf cart parked not far from the pumpkin weigh-in, Foster said the cloudy, cool conditions were great for the fair’s first day.

The giant pumpkin and squash weigh-in contest was one of the first events scheduled for Sunday, with the registration and weigh-in scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m.

Bill Mackowski’s entry weighed in at 159 pounds, while Francine Mackowski’s tipped the scale at 129 pounds. In 2019, his prize-winning pumpkin weighed 88 pounds and hers was 60 pounds.

Fair Trustee Alan Turner said the number of entrants varies from year to year, and there is no way to tell who will bring what for the contest.

“I can’t believe no one’s gonna bring the big squash,” Turner said, noting that in a big year, there would be 15 to 20. “One guy, he was down in another part of the state, he used to bring five, six of them, but he passed away last year from cancer.”

Bill Mackowski, who also raises exhibition poultry, grows commercial pumpkins on his property in Milford. He said he has no particular expertise in growing exhibition pumpkins.

“It’s not me,” he said. “It’s everybody else, and picking his brain and this guy’s, and everybody else’s input. This is just a product of what everybody told me.”

He added this year has brought good growing weather, with rainfall augmented by his drip irrigation system.

The process of growing pumpkins has plenty of pitfalls, including plant diseases, hungry squirrels and, at his farm on the bank of the Penobscot River, snapping turtles digging through his black plastic ground cover every June, when they emerge from the river to find spots to lay eggs.

Mark Birtwell coats fried dough Sunday at the fairway at the Windsor Fair. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Bill Mackowski does have experience with growing other produce, however. He operated 11 greenhouses to supply Agway stores, and had 40 acres of fresh market vegetables he sold to the University of Maine and at a farm stand. Now, he is growing pumpkins and sunflowers.

He said his plentiful poultry manure helps, as does burying the vines to promote the plant’s ability to take up water through its root system.

“Because of the nature of the plant, you’ve only got about 35 days of growing time,” Bill Mackowski said. “It’s all been worked into the genetics.”

When this year’s fair is over, Bill Mackowski said he will take the record-breaking jack-o’-lantern pumpkins home and set them on his porch. They probably will not last long enough to be carved for Halloween, but he plans to harvest the seeds and keep them for next year’s entries.

Foster said the 2021 fair marks the inaugural year of a beer garden after town voters opted in 2019 to loosen restrictions on the sale of alcohol at restaurants and other licensed entities.

This year, MaineGeneral Medical Center will operate a pop-up vaccination clinic daily from noon to 6 p.m., to administer the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Those who get the shot will receive a pass for one free entry to the fair.

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