Winnipeg’s Filipino community searches for heaviest, longest gourd at 2nd annual Upo Festival

Winnipeg’s second annuual Upo Festival continues to grow as the Filipino community celebrated its local vegetables on Sunday.

Much like Canada’s largest pumpkin festivals, Upo Festival holds a competition to see who can grow the longest upo and the heaviest upo. 

“If rural Manitoba has [the] pumpkin festival, we Filipino-Manitobans have the Upo Festival,” event organizer Leila Castro said.

Upo is a vegetable known in English as the bottle gourd, which is known for its elongated bottle-like shape. It’s a vegetable used often in Filipino cuisine. 

Brix Delcarmen, who won last year’s longest upo competition, said it was like an “ethnic version of a zucchini.”

Last year, he squashed the competition with an almost two-metre long upo. This year, he broke his own record: his upo reached over two metres.

“It took me two months to grow,” Delcarmen said. 

“I wasn’t very competitive, but now since there’s a new event like this, I stepped up my game.” 

Volunteers carefully measure and weigh upos that were entered in this year’s competition held at the Maples multiplex arena. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Delcarmen calls gardening his hobby. His love for animals — specifically rabbits — also plays a hand. He uses the manure from his rabbits to help grow his garden.

“It’s all natural manure, and then you just have to take care of [the upo],” Delcarmen said. 

He checks on it almost daily. “It’s like it’s my baby.” 

After the festival, held at Maples multiplex arena, is over, Delcarmen plans to dry his upo so he can collect seeds for next year. 

Leila Castro is one of the administrators of the 204 Filipino Forum group, and the organizer of Upo Festival. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Castro, who runs different Facebook groups for the Filipino community, says it was important for them to bring the Upo Festival to Winnipeg.

“When we go to the other side of the world [from the Philippines], we become not just Filipinos… but Filipino Manitobans. But the Filipino [part of us] is still there,” Castro said.

She said the community wanted to make sure their cultures and traditions weren’t lost on children growing up in Canada. 

“We want the kids to grow up to eat what’s healthy [and] to still be in touch with their ethnic roots.” 

Castro hopes after the event, more people are inspired to start their own gardens. 

“There’s so much interest [in gardening] because it’s healthy,” she said.

“Physically, it’s healthy. Financially, when you get your your produce from your backyard. It’s [also] healthy mentally. So we encourage people to to have a a backyard vegetable garden.” 

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