Ask a North Fork resident for a list of communitywide grievances and you might be surprised to find how polarizing the pumpkin has become.
Traffic from Christmas tree hunters, farm-to-table restaurant diners and winery goers pales in comparison to the droves who come to pick pumpkins, and by doing so, overwhelm the country roads in September and October. The problem has become so bad in recent years that on weekends, residents have said visiting family further west or shopping at the nearest big-box stores in Riverhead is out of the question.
For Jack Gismondi of Southold, the squash is synonymous with standstill, bumper-to-bumper traffic that makes it impossible for him to leave his neighborhood on autumn weekends.
"You can almost walk across the hoods of the cars," said Gismondi, 61, a plumber. And if you did, he added, "probably, you could get there quicker."
Cars clog Sound Avenue and Route 25, and now, thanks to navigation apps, drivers have also discovered previously undisturbed Peconic Bay Boulevard, which runs parallel and south of Route 25.
"The traffic is a pain in the neck," said Stephen Capozzoli, 70, of Southold, a retired NYPD officer, and artist, who goes by the name Frankie Neptune. "We’re getting all these people we never used to see; people in Mercedes and Ferraris and Teslas."
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said his department works with Riverhead police to address traffic in the fall. Southold police assign a detail of traffic control officers at a pedestrian crosswalk near Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck, where there are farm stands on both the south and north side of Sound Avenue. Harbes reimburses the town for the service, he said.
The three-day Columbus Day weekend is typically the busiest of the year, he said, and the worst of the congestion usually starts around 10 a.m. and can continue past 6 p.m.
"We're at a disadvantage. We only have three roads that come into Southold town," he said. "We try to keep it moving."
Still, it can be hard to argue against the pumpkin’s charm.
Al Krupski, a fourth-generation farmer who owns a pumpkin farm in Peconic, encouraged his father and grandfather to first grow and sell the gourd in 1976.
The fruit’s appeal is partly because it’s nutritious and, depending on the variety, delicious, said Krupski, a self-professed pumpkin lover. The Long Island Cheese pumpkin, an heirloom variety preserved by farm families like the Krupskis, is the gold standard for flavor, he said.
The pumpkin can be enjoyed in multiple ways, as fall décor, in bread and pie or a blank canvas for an inventive jack-o’-lantern — multiple lives unobtainable for a humble head of cauliflower, he said.
"The pumpkin does have the ability to have a personality," said Krupski, who is also a Suffolk County legislator. "More so than a green pepper."
A new exhibit organized by artists Adam Straus and Glen Hansen asks local artists, including Capozzoli, to either celebrate or denigrate the orange squash that heralds the community’s most frustrating season.
The show is inspired by a 2019 letter written by Gismondi and published in the local newspaper that called for an outright ban of the pumpkin. Gismondi, who stressed that the letter was written as tongue-in-cheek satire, said he was called a fascist and a Communist on social media for his missive.
Most involved in the art show, which runs at Hansen’s Southold studio through Nov. 7, chose celebration, Straus said. His own contributions include side-by-side protest signs in favor of the fruit ["hell no pumpkins must not go"] and against ["just say no"].
"The funny thing to me is that it’s kind of for our very partisan politics right now," Straus said. "But at the same time, it’s just, you know, a show about pumpkins."
“BAN THE PUMPKIN”
The exhibit runs weekends from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. or by appointment through Nov. 7 at Hansen’s Studio, 1560 Youngs Ave., Southold. For more information call 347-675-2793. There is no fee to see the exhibit.