Fall Festivals and Pick-Your-Own Patches Thrive in Northern Va.

10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

Photos by Shannon Sollinger

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The cow train is just one of the attractions for visitors to the Temple Hall Farm Corn MAiZE and Fall Festival. The 286-acre working farm offers pumpkin blasters, corn cob blasters, jumping pillows, a paintball gallery, pig races, bouncy horse races and the 24-acre corn MAiZE, carved out of cornstalks in a pattern this year to honor the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America.

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Paul Troth, out with his family from their Sterling, Va., home to Wegmeyer Farms in western Loudoun County, introduces Aubrey Ann, 9 months, to the finer points of pick-your-own pumpkins.

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The Gayleux D’Esines pumpkin — also known as the “peanut pumpkin” — traces it roots to France. One of 30 varieties grown at Wegmeyer Farms, the Gayleux varies from pale pink to a deep salmon, depending on when it is harvested, and is excellent for a fall display — and then the cooking pot.

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This scarecrow, one of seven bearing answers to agricultural questions on the track of the Wegmeyer Farms hay ride, answers the question, “Today’s farmers produce what percent more food compared to 1950?”

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Temple Hall Farm’s new visitor center offers pre-picked pumpkins of all varieties. Halloween favorites include the warty Knucklehead and Goosebump.

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Blake Zywicki, 8, lef, tries on a neck pumpkin in Temple Hall Farm’s pick-your-own pumpkin patch just north of Leesburg, Va., while brother Dylan, 9, gathers the best candidates for carving.<\c>

LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — If it’s October and the air is getting colder and the nights longer, it’s time to head out to the local farms in search of, if not the Great Pumpkin, a really great pumpkin.

In Loudoun County, Temple Hall Farm in Leesburg, Ticonderoga Farms in Chantilly and Great Country Farms in Bluemont serve up full-fledged fall festivals — rides, activities, food and shopping — along with a trip to the pick-your-own patch.

Just south of the tiny village of Lincoln, Wegmeyer Farms has the pumpkins, more than 30 varieties, hayride and corn maze, but takes a more educational approach to the season. The Wegmeyer hayride features not only a trip through Creepy Hollow, but also an agri-quiz.

In 1985, A.V. Symington donated her 286-acre Temple Hall Farm, on U.S. 15 a short drive north of Leesburg, to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (“No developer will get his hands on my beloved land,” she told her biographer) to be maintained as an educational and recreational resource for the people of northern Virginia.

The Corn MAiZE and Fall Festival, now through Nov. 6, certainly fulfills the recreation commitment —hay rides, pig races, pumpkin cannons and corn blasters, bounce pillows, farm animals, the largest corn maze in the area and, of course, acres and acres of pick-your-own pumpkins.

“We irrigated this year and have a pretty good crop, 30 to 40 varieties of pumpkins and gourds,” said farm manager John Moore.

With Blue Hubbard squash, white and red pumpkins, it’s got a patriotic cast as well.

Moore recommended the Knucklehead and Goosebump pumpkins — warty to excess — for “very scary” Halloween displays.

Darin Zywicki and his sons Blake, 8, and Dylan, 9, scoured the pumpkin field for the perfect jack-o’-lantern candidates. “We were here last year and picked pumpkins,” Zywicki said, “but we didn’t get to see the pig races.”

They haven’t done any cooking with their haul, Zywicki said, but carved them up for Halloween. And Blake painted a Cynderface on the gourds — “one of the undead dragons in Skylanders,” he explained.

Harriet and Tyler Wegmeyer have been growing pumpkins since 2002 and started inviting the public to the 25-acre farm for pick-your-own in 2008 (strawberries joined the pick-your-own roster in 2009). They also wholesale pumpkins to local Whole Foods and Harris-Teeter supermarkets.

The u-pick patch is two acres, Tyler said, but they grow on more than 100 acres. The corn maze and the pumpkin patch change locations every year to maximize nutrition in the soil.

He and Harriet brainstorm the questions they distribute to the families boarding the hay ride, and they have installed seven scarecrows along the route, each offering an answer to one of the seven agri-quiz queries. They are well prepared to do that —he’s director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation and Harriet is executive director of the Nutrients for Life Foundation.

Wegmeyer Farms is about “good old-fashioned family fun, not a carnival,” Tyler said.

Their sons, Torsten, 6, and Tucker, 4, have joined the family enterprise this year (Colden, 2, will suit up in a year or two). They dress up in skeleton costumes to wave at the guests on the hayride.

“It’s a family thing for us, too,” Harriet said. “We are able to spend time with our kids while we’re working. They love it.”

Like any farmers, they are weather dependent, Tyler said, and because they market directly to the public, the weather packs a double whammy.

“When you’re a direct-to-consumer farm, like we are, you deal with all the elements of weather to raise a crop, and then you have the whole marketing aspect. You have to have good weather to market that crop, get people to come out. Otherwise they stay in their houses and go to the grocery store to buy their pumpkin.”

The first weekend of their fall festival, Sept. 29 and 30, was unseasonably warm and traffic at the farm was light, Tyler said. The next weekend, temperatures dropped and the pick-your-own patch and the corn maze were pretty well packed.

Danny Kramer came from one of the county’s newer subdivisions, Stone Ridge, with his wife, Megan, and 13-month-old daughter, Fiona.

“We love picking our own pumpkins,” Megan said. “It’s just fun.”

And a good, fun family experience, Danny added. “We get to enjoy some time with the family.”


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