PUMPKINS at Halloween conjure images of freaky faces in the window, but a popular festival returns tomorrow to show they are more than just a scary prop.

The seventh annual Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival is back, with events across the county encouraging people to eat – rather than throw away – their squash.

An estimated 12.8 million pumpkins are due to go uneaten this Halloween, with 18,000 tonnes of food going to waste.

But the festival, organised by Good Food Oxford, aims to tackle this problem by showing the squash's versatility.

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Coordinator Nina Osswald said: “Pumpkin Festival is a time we all look forward to a lot every year.

"It’s not just about raising awareness of food waste, but equally a celebration of the abundant harvest that our local food growers bring to the markets and produce stores at this time.

"What we’d like to see is that everyone in Oxford gets to taste the delicious pumpkins and squashes that are grown here, and appreciates their diversity.

"There’s so much more than the uniform Jack-O-Lanterns we see in the supermarkets at this time.”

While the coronavirus pandemic may cause a decline in traditional trick-or-treating this year, a recent poll showed people's carving plans are unlikely to change.

The survey by environmental group Hubbub found more than half of the estimated 23 million pumpkins carved will go uneaten, with the majority of those questioned unaware they are edible.

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The festival kicks off with a pumpkin, squash and honey sale at Oxford City Farm in East Oxford tomorrow, while more markets will be held across the city over the next two weekends.

Coronavirus restrictions mean organisers have had to be creative with some of the other events taking place until Sunday, November 1.

A bookings-only carving and cooking event at Cherwell Collective in Kidlington and a farm tour to Tolhurst Organic in South Oxfordshire will both follow social distancing regulations.

Usual highlights are not possible, such as the guided tour of the food recycling plant in Cassington and the big Disco Soup in Bonn Square, but there will be cooking demos online and on social media.

Several restaurants and community cafes will run pumpkin menus, and local chefs and community cooks will teach new skills in online videos.

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Ms Osswald said: “It wasn’t easy to put together as varied a programme as we normally have.

"But our network members have been very creative with thinking of other ways to make sure people get to eat and learn about pumpkins and squashes.”

Rachel Burns, Oxfordshire County Council's waste strategy manager, added: “If you do decide to dispose of your pumpkins, remember to compost them at home or put them in your food recycling bin.

"This will help the environment, as pumpkins and other food waste can be recycled and used to produce electricity and fertiliser for local farm land.”

Visit goodfoodoxford.org