The annual Running of the Gourds Festival, an event that celebrates the fruit's growing popularity, has taken over Pinal County this weekend.

The Pinal Fairgrounds & Event Center has been a gourd-lover's paradise since Friday. Wuertz Gourd Farm, a family-owned gourd farm, has been putting on the festival for the past 12 years.

There will be more than 60,000 gourds for sale, co-owner Waylon Wuertz said. About 120 vendors will be showing roughly 5,000 pieces of art.

"The diversity of all the gourd art is just amazing," Wuertz told the Casa Grande Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1xAIbVt).

A gourd is a type of fruit characterized by a hard shell and is often used for artwork. The items for sale at the festival range from $5 knick-knacks to $15,000 high-end art pieces, Wuertz said. Artists use gourds to make everything from hats to utensils.

The festivities will also include the return of Flash Gourden, a "gourd superhero" who sits on the front of a bicycle while someone else pedals. Children will also be able to learn about the uses of gourds in "kindergourden" classes. There are classes for adults too.

Despite all the groan-worthy gourd puns, the fruit's use as the foundation for artwork is taken very seriously. A juried art show has drawn nearly 500 entries, Wuertz said.

Last year's three-day event drew nearly 12,000 people, according to organizers. The festival runs through Sunday.

Wuertz is a fourth-generation farmer who started growing gourds as a business in 2002. The Wuertz family has been farming in the Casa Grande and Coolidge area since 1929.

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Information from: Casa Grande Dispatch.