Families find the secret to fall fun on the farm

Adults and children venture out to the fields for their own pumpkin pursuits

September 25, 2005|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Taylor Bedell and Allison Reece giggled as they stuffed straw into a pair of trousers.

"This isn't as easy as it looks," 13-year-old Taylor said. "When you stuff the legs you have to make sure they're the same size and that the legs bend easily when you sit the scarecrow down. If the legs are too stiff the scarecrow can't sit."

Allison conducted a flexibility test on one of the legs before continuing.

"You also have to be able to touch and work with straw," the 10-year-old said.

The Bel Air girls were learning how to make scarecrows at Brad's Produce Farm in Churchville, one of several locations in Harford County that are gearing up for fall by rolling out an assortment of seasonal activities including pumpkin patches, corn mazes, scarecrow-making and hayrides.

The activities at Brad's are typical of traditional offerings at farms throughout the county this time of year.

Karin Milton, who gives scarecrow-making demonstrations, said visiting groups of children bring clothing for the scarecrows. The straw and other materials are provided by Brad's for $7.

"The center of our activities gear toward the farm," said Brad Milton, owner of the 200-acre farm. "We offer things that are not haunted or scary-type activities for kids."

The farm also offers educational programs, teaching kids about pumpkins.

Milton walked over to his produce stand and pointed out a peculiar-looking pumpkin he called a "Fairy Tale" pumpkin and explained that it was named symbolically for the pumpkin in the Cinderella story.

He then selected a white pumpkin. "This pumpkin is smaller, rarer and harder to grow than the orange pumpkin and they are becoming more popular," Milton said. "People buy them because they look classy among all the orange pumpkins."

He selected another pumpkin. "This one is called a crookneck pumpkin," he said. "It always has a crook in it and it's great for baking pies."

Milton said kids typically pick pumpkins he's dubbed "Spookie Pumpkins," which are smaller and easy for them to carry and paint or carve.

More than 100 school groups and organizations visit the farm in October, making it the busiest month, he said.

When it comes to fall activities, the farm tries to offer something for everyone, Milton said. For those not inclined to make scarecrows, a free wagon wide waits to take them on a 45-minute trip around the farm to the pumpkin patch, where they can pick the perfect gourd.

Sometimes selecting just the right pumpkin can be a long process, especially when the choices are spread out across 15 acres of farmland.

Rita Myerson of Bel Air said she makes a day out of selecting pumpkins with her three children.

For some kids, the first pumpkin they see will suffice, while for others, it has to be perfectly shaped and blemish-free.

"My kids go out into the pumpkin patch and with the same precision we might use selecting a car or a new house, they pick that perfect pumpkin," said Myerson. One year, it turned into a three-hour event for her then-6-year-old daughter Rachel, who had developed an interest in the story, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

"She was taking forever in the pumpkin patch, that year at Applewood Farm," Myerson said. "She just sat down and looked around. She kept saying she hadn't chosen one yet."

Myerson realized her daughter, now 8, was waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.

Farm operators say families are buying more and more pumpkins and selecting the more unique styles for their autumn decorations.

"The pumpkin business has really increased in Harford County," said Milton, whose farm sells pumpkins for 40 cents a pound. "More and more young families are moving here and they want one pumpkin for each child. ... I put about $10,000 a year into the pumpkins and I always make a profit when the weather cooperates and we have a good crop."

Milton also gives children tips about their pumpkins so they last through Halloween.

His tips include:

Pick a pumpkin with a firm stem.

Wait to carve the pumpkin until a couple days before Halloween.

Keep the pumpkin out of direct sunlight and away from excessive moisture.

Perhaps even more popular than the pumpkins is the corn maze, called "Ice Age."

The two-mile maze winding through 75,000 corn stalks costs $5 per person. It is designed with three storyboard stations where the answers to two of six questions can be found at each, and picture stations are hidden throughout the field.

"You can get lost in the maze, and if you panic, it's even harder," Milton said. "Sometimes you might hear a kid calling out for their parents. But most people spend an hour to one-and-a-half hours in the maze."

To make things interesting and to encourage adults to try the maze, Brad's offers "Flashlight Night" every Friday until 9 p.m. Patrons pay the same price and bring their own flashlight. They are led to the entrance and must find their way through it.

Milton said he checks on younger visitors as they go into the maze and recommends that parents go in with kids age 8 and younger.

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