Pumpkins add to farm’s bottom line

ROSEBURG, Ore. — The tradition of going to the pumpkin patch can be both an educational and a memory-making experience for kids and families. It also connects the public to farming and agriculture, and is a big boost to the farmer’s income.

For years, even decades, families have been visiting pumpkin fields on weekends and classes of young school children have been visiting on weekdays during October as Halloween nears. At many farms, a wagon with hay bales for seats carries both kids and adults into the field. Once off the wagon, the kids, with adults in pursuit, spread out in search of the perfect pumpkin for carving into a jack-o-lantern or for decoration for Halloween.

Some farms also have hay bale mazes or corn mazes to add to the family activities.

“It’s really the only sector of U-pick farming that has grown in the past 30 years,” said Evan Kruse, co-owner of Kruse Farms, a 500-acre family business near Roseburg, Ore. “There’s a lot more interest in this type of ag tourism than U-picking fruits and vegetables to feed your family. It just shows the progression of the easier availability of produce in farm markets and grocery stores.”

Kruse, who has three young children, said a visit to the pumpkin patch is play compared to what might be considered work when U-picking beans, strawberries or any other fruit or vegetable.

Kruse Farms offers visitors 10 acres of pumpkins to choose from, a 4-acre corn maze, a hay bale maze in a greenhouse and a 1-acre sunflower walk.

“It’s the most important 15 acres on the farm out of the 500 because they provide the most connection to the public,” Kruse said. “There’s so little exposure to agriculture, but a pumpkin visit allows people to see what we have and to see a still working farm.”

Roseburg teacher Robin Huselton brought her class of 20 kindergartners to Kruse Farms on Oct. 22. After about 30 minutes of searching, each student had picked out a pumpkin.

Huselton said prior to the visit, the kids read books about the lifecycle of a pumpkin, watched science videos about pumpkins and made a book about pumpkins. She explained that in learning about the different seasons, it is easy for the students to make the connection between pumpkins and fall.

She added that once the pumpkins are back in the classroom, they’ll be weighed and measured by the kids as a numbers lesson.

“A pumpkin patch trip gets the kids out in nature,” Huselton said. “A lot of my students live in apartments. It’s good for the students to see and understand that they can get produce grown right here where they can see it.”

Amy Holmgren said her grandchildren make two or three trips to pumpkin fields each year, making those visits with grandparents, parents and classes. She said those family trips have been a tradition for many years. When she was a child, she visited pumpkin fields with her parents and grandparents.

“The kids love it every time they go,” Holmgren said. “As kids get older and the world changes, there are not a lot of wholesome traditions left. It’s good to have certain things like this that the kids can count on.”

Holmgren said she talks to her grandchildren about the process of growing pumpkins, that they need good soil and water, and that a farmer needs to do the work.

“They need to know pumpkins and food are not just a magical thing,” Holmgren said. “They need to know where food comes from, where and how vegetables grow, and that they’re just not from a store.”

For the farms, in addition to exposure to the visiting public, pumpkins provide one more income source.

“Pumpkins offer another good opportunity for an earning month for a farm after the summer months when most crops are harvested,” Kruse said.