Nov 19, 2015

Scenes from The Great Pumpkin Patch, Arthur, Ill.

Remember that “Peanuts” holiday special where Linus and Sally sit outside in a sad looking pumpkin patch waiting for a mythical entity known as the Great Pumpkin to bring Halloween cheer?  Granted, Linus was one confused kid, but I’m betting he’d be ecstatic with The Great Pumpkin Patch in the heart of Illinois Amish country outside of Arthur, Ill.

In full disclosure, I’ve made my share of day trips from Springfield to Arthur and other Amish communities -- primarily to shop for cheeses, homemade breads and other goodies -- but I had never heard of The Great Pumpkin Patch until The April sold me on the idea of taking The Kiddo there last month.  She made it sound like an Amish farmhouse version of an amusement park, and as it turns out, that’s a pretty accurate assessment.

As it turns out, The Great Pumpkin Patch began innocently enough as a small pumpkin growing experiment on a farm that has been in the same family since 1859.  But, as those in the know would tell you, Illinois is a prime pumpkin growing environment (95% of pumpkins grown for processing are grown here in Illinois), and the crop took off -- so much, in fact, that it takes up 63 acres of the farm today.  So, when The Great Pumpkin Patch is open mid-September through Oct. 31, as it has been for the last 27 years, business booms.  

The farm is actually relatively easy to find as you head south from Arthur.  Just follow all of the other cars while you dodge the horse-and-buggies.  When we arrived, there was even a guy directing traffic onto a gravel drive leading to a large field reserved for parking.  Even from there, we could see a long line leading from the entrance.

We found where the line started …

… grabbed a favorably steering pumpkin wagon …

… and waited our turn.

Once inside, all sorts of cucurbit chaos ensued.  

The pumpkin craze that takes over the world’s taste buds every fall is one thing, but this farm has something for all tastes, seasons and nationalities.  In fact, they boast growing more than 300 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds originating from over 30 countries.  And they all seemed to be for sale the day we were there.  

With this many to choose from, I have to wonder how you select the Squash of the Year?

We largely quashed squash temptation, though, as our primary reason for making the trip was to pick out a few pumpkins for decorating around the home.  We filled our wagon in no time.  Then, it was time to explore the rest of the grounds.

It didn’t take me long to find the tasting station.  The sampling of pumpkin soup wasn’t half bad.  But it didn’t match the apple cider I purchased at the Pumpkin Creamery ice cream shop.  

Did I mention how expansive the grounds were?  Everywhere we turned there was another display of pumpkins or gourds …

… including this behemoth ...

… or odd decorations like this giant straw turkey …

… or the ever-present reminders that you’re in Amish country.

If you get tired of roaming, there’s a stage and seating area near the center of the grounds where you can enjoy a little bluegrass -- definitely appropriate entertainment for the venue.

No farm tour can be complete without a few barnyard animals to amuse all of the kiddos who come there, and this one has a good variety, from goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens and turkeys …

… to a llama and alpaca.  They seem quite unimpressed by all the attention.   

And if you roam far enough …

… you’ll eventually find the actual pumpkin patch, looking a lot like the one Linus and Sally camped out in.  

Our trip to The Great Pumpkin Patch was a full day, but it was worth it.  The Kiddo got her pumpkins, The April got her fresh-baked bread at the adjacent Homestead Bakery, and I got to blog about a bunch of people going gaga over gourds.  I sense we’ve started a new, annual family tradition.  

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