Story behind the 833 pound “Giant Pumpkin” that floated down the Cahaba River for clean water (photos)

David Zagardo rowing in the “Giant Pumpkin” down the Cahaba River. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

Everyone knows the Peanuts story. 

Linus van Pelt waits patiently every Halloween in a pumpkin patch to welcome the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, when the Great Pumpkin arrives he brings joy and toys to all the children who believe. 

Well, in Birmingham, thanks to the pandemic of 2020, we now have our own version of the Great Pumpkin story.  

This past weekend, a 833 pound Giant Pumpkin, the 7th largest ever grown in Alabama, brought joy to everyone who cares about clean drinking water when it sailed down the Cahaba River to raise money for the Cahaba Riverkeeper.

As of Sunday, August 30, the Giant Pumpkin has raised $1406 via an ongoing GoFundMe campaign and website called the

I’m sure Linus would approve.

What’s up with the Giant Pumpkin

David Zagardo rowing in the “Giant Pumpkin” down the Cahaba River. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

So what’s the story of the Giant Pumpkin floating down the Cahaba River.

Meet David Zagardo,  local composer and producer, and recently turned giant pumpkin grower and rower.

When Bham Now heard about David’s pumpkin and his efforts to raise funds for the Cahaba Riverkeeper, we tracked him down to find out how and why he grew an 800+  pound  pumpkin and held a fundraiser.

Thanks to David Butler, the Cahaba Riverkeeper, we connected with Zagardo through email. 

Exclusive to Bham Now, here is David’s story about his quarantine, a pumpkin, a river and not taking anything for granted.

In His Words

David Zagardo beside the “Giant Pumpkin”. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

“Really the pumpkin started out as a result of the quarantine. At the beginning of the year when I was planning my garden, I came across some giant pumpkin seeds online. I did a little bit of research, and ended up watching an hour and a half long powerpoint lecture on YouTube about how to grow giant pumpkins. I figured I’d have a lotta time on my hands with the quarantine, so I set aside a couple (big) plots of land for these guys, and the rest is pretty much history! 

“Baby” Pumpkin. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

Gotta give credit where it’s due, though – big thanks to the guys in the Backyard Giant Pumpkin Growers Facebook group! Without the generous help and guidance of guys like Cecil, Jay, Christopher, Shannon, and everyone else in there, I wouldn’t have made it past 500 lbs. The community is wholly supportive, and everyone just wants to see each other grow really, really, really big pumpkins!

The general theme of my 2020 experience has been “nothing is a given,” and “don’t take anything for granted.” You just never know how long you have, or what you’re going to wake up to in the morning. Cherish everything you’ve got.

The Fundraiser

Pulling the “Giant Pumpkin” into the Cahaba River. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

Regarding my fundraiser, Cahaba Riverkeeper is a registered non-profit organization dedicated to keeping the Cahaba river clean, safe, and preserved. Without them, our rivers would continue to be polluted. There are few advocating for the protection that our watersheds need. Alabama is America’s leading state for freshwater biodiversity. I’m a believer in what Cahaba Riverkeeper is trying to do, and I wanted to find a way to give back.

David Zagardo rowing in the “Giant Pumpkin” down the Cahaba River. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

If “don’t take anything for granted” is this year’s primary theme, then I’d wager 2020’s secondary theme is “why not?” Rowing my pumpkin seemed like a novel enough idea that I’d been considering it as a final send off (either that or blowing it up), but when my buddy tossed out the idea of turning it into a fundraising opportunity I immediately jumped on the idea. Built the website, GoFundMe, and started promoting it all in about 3 or 4 hours on Thursday. It seemed like such an absurd idea. How would this work? How would I get my pumpkin to the Cahaba, let alone safely into the water? Would it be worth the trouble? Who would even consider donating to something like this? But then again, why not? Well, it turns out a lot of people would!”


Celebrate the Giant Pumpkin – a Noble Death

Removing the seeds. Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

Cahaba Riverkeeper’s David Butler had this to say about the fundraiser:

“We are fortunate to have so many people offering help, but this offer was more than a little unusual.  David Zagardo decided to grow a Giant Pumpkin as a quarantine project, but wanted his pumpkin to serve a noble purpose in death.  When he first proposed the idea of floating the Cahaba in the pumpkin, we didn’t know how serious to take it.  But, when we saw how much he had loved and nourished his pumpkin, the 7th largest ever grown in Alabama, we knew we had to try!

Our work is supported by everyday citizens who care enough to get involved, whether with their time, money, or skills.  Without this help, programs like Swim Guide wouldn’t be possible.  David’s effort was unique and we plan to put the funds raised to work in documenting the current state of the river and working to make it swimmable, drinkable, and fishable for generations to come.”

Still Time to Contribute

Photo courtesy of David Zagardo

Zagardo did row his giant pumpkin a couple of miles down the Cahaba River.  His friends kept a watchful eye on him and the pumpkin. They even played a didgeridoo while floating in the pumpkin.

If Peanuts creator Charles Shultz was still around, I bet he and his lovable Linus would deem Zagardo’s pumpkin a “Great Pumpkin.”  It certainly has brought a great deal of joy and more importantly, it raised money for a good cause – Birmingham’s drinking water.

The Campaign is Still Open

Visit Cahaba Riverkeeper’s Great Pumpkin Voyage GoFundMe Campaign to learn more about the Giant Pumpkin and how you can support the group’s efforts.And let’s hope Zagardo and the Cahaba Riverkeeper can come back next year with the biggest pumpkin ever grown in Alabama floating down the Cahaba River.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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