Meet Bruce Howden

Pumpkins to Farm Bureau: The Legend of Bruce Howden

For more than 40 years, Howden Farm in Sheffield, Massachusetts, has been a member of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF). While the farm has changed hands in that time, being passed from John A. Howden toBruce Howden and his partner, David, it remains John A. Howden’s “empire” as he started the farm in 1939 and managed the operation for 58 years.
“If really began with the Howden pumpkin,” Bruce Howden said. “My father brought some Connecticut field pumpkin seeds but he was not happy with the results, so he started saving seeds from the best pumpkins in the field and used them to raise the next year’s crop.
After many years, John Howden’s work began to gain notice from seed salesmen.
“The seed salesmen asked my father where he got the seeds for the pumpkins in the fields because he liked them so much,” he said. “And my father replied that he bought the seeds from the salesmen originally.”
As the salesmen wanted the seeds, he offered to buy them from John Howden, but Bruce cautioned his father against this.
“I said ‘don’t sell them to him outright,’” Bruce said. “What he needed to do was sell the seed company the rights and get some sort of royalties for the amount of seeds sold.”
To do this, John Howden entered into a contract with the seed company, which was in place until the early 90s.When that ran out the company put together an additional 5-year contract. But in the meantime, John Howden was already working on his next variety – the Howden Biggie.
“There was a huge pumpkin in the field,” Bruce said. “It was noticeably larger than the other pumpkins and my father took it and saved the seeds. When he planted those seeds next year, it seemed like all the pumpkins from that one pumpkin were larger.”
According to Bruce, these weighed roughly 40 pounds, where a true Howden only weighs 20 to 25 pounds.
“My father wanted to be sure it was a true variety and that it did not revert back to the Howden so he took it down to Rutgers University and they trialed it for him,” Bruce said. “They decided it was a true variety and that’s how the Howden Biggie came about.”
When John Howden passed away in 1997, Bruce and his partner returned to the farm. Since then Bruce has been working to improve the stems on the pumpkins. Also during those 20 years, Bruce has been an active part of Farm Bureau and currently serves as president of Berkshire County Farm Bureau.
“It’s important to be a member of Farm Bureau so we can show the legislator how important agriculture is in Massachusetts,” Bruce said. “Numbers are important. And it’s important to show our legislators the diversity of agriculture in Massachusetts.”
Howden said he remains a member of Farm Bureau because the organization helps him on issues ranging from concerns about his land in the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program to net metering. He served as vice president for MFBF but stepped down in December 2017 for health reasons. His service to this organization was honored during the annual meeting by then MFBF President Ed Davidian, who farms in Northborough.
“Bruce is a long-time friend and has served as my vice president for the past two-years,” Davidian said during the meeting. “His service and dedication to our organization has helped us grow and reach new heights. For this, he deserves a round of applause.”
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