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It's Pumpkin Time!

In addition to cooler temps, another sure-fire sign of fall is the appearance of pumpkins.

Wesley United Methodist Church:

For residents of northeast Bakersfield, it’s become a familiar fall tradition: the lawn in front of Wesley United Methodist Church transformed into the Pumpkin Patch.

Coordinator Carolyn Ashlock first got the idea for this fundraiser when her husband, a truck driver, picked up a load of pumpkins on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico where they’re grown.

“At our first Pumpkin Patch in 1999, we sold 1,001 pumpkins,” Ashlock recalled.  “We sell all sizes, from Wee-Be-Little’s to larger varieties; last year, our biggest was a hundred pounds. This year, we’ll have about 2,700 pumpkins in many colors including Cinderella green.”

With so many to choose from, finding the right one can be challenging. Last year, Ashlock solved that with some ingenuity and a mixture of cornstarch, glitter, and salt.

“Some kids get overwhelmed and just stand there looking,” Ashlock explained. “So, I take a jar of this dust, put some in their hands, and take them to the middle of the patch. Then, I tell them to rub their hands together and blow on it to lead them to the perfect one. It works! They find one every time, and no other pumpkin patch offers fairy pumpkin dust!”     

Rev. Karen Pugh said it’s okay if folks come without buying. “Some people like to just come and wander around and take pictures – which is fine,” Rev. Pugh said. “I really feel Christ’s presence with all the families and the children. I feel a happy, joyful spirit.”

The church will also be holding a Family Fun Day with a bounce house, crafts, free popcorn and lemonade, and baked goods and hotdogs for sale. Gently used coats and Bibles will be available for anyone wanting one. “It’s wonderful to see people walking around the patch enjoying themselves with a Bible tucked under their arm,” Rev. Pugh said.

All pumpkins are grown on the Navajo Reservation in Northwest New Mexico. Proceeds from sales support Native American families and mission projects and ministries in Bakersfield.

The Pumpkin Patch is open October 13 to November 2 (hours vary). Family Fun Day is Saturday, October 27, 11am to 4pm. Both events are free. For more information, call 871-3030.

Murray Family Farms:

Farther east, you’ll find the Big Red Barn at Murray Family Farms’ Hwy 58 location at General Beale Road, where visitors can enjoy their month-long October Fun Fest with paid farm admission.

Farm owner Vickie Murray said this much-loved community event is very popular, but for those who only want to shop for pumpkins and take pictures, paid admission is not necessary.

“We have pumpkins for sale in the Front Porch Pumpkin Patch where parents can bring their children for an amazing photo op,” Murray said. “And the nearby picnic area has a popcorn pool filled two feet deep with washed, large, flat purple kernels of unpopped corn for kids to play in.”

Farm admission includes four different mazes: the large interactive Corn Maze with a spiders and bats theme, the smaller Spookly Maze for families with strollers that features Spookly the Square Pumpkin, the Cherry Tomato Maze with several tomato varieties to eat and tomato worms to find, and their newest addition, the Sunflower Maze.

Children can also explore an Ant Farm and the Petting Zoo, ride the Cow Train, watch animal races, play on the Bouncing Pillow, and go on everybody’s favorite, the Hay Ride to the pumpkin patch.

Murray Farms came into existence 22 years ago when Steve and Vickie purchased 20 acres and an old farmhouse at Hwy 58 and General Beale Road. They are now certified sustainable and boast 385 acres that produce more than 200 varieties of seasonal fresh fruits and veggies available in sequence year-round.

Hours and prices for the October Fun Fest are: 12:30-6pm, Mon-Fri / $6.99 per person, children 3 & under FREE; 8am-6pm, Sat & Sun / $10.99 per person, children 3 & under FREE.

On the west side, Murray Farms has their smaller location, the Old Tomato Weigh-Station, at 9557 Copus Road near the I-5 freeway. Besides pumpkins, it has a petting zoo and lamas and is open daily from 9am to 6pm.

For more information, call the Big Red Barn at 661-330-0100 or the Old Tomato Weigh-Station at 661-858-1100 or go to www.murrayfamilyfarms.com.   

Banducci’s Family Pumpkin Patch:

If you’re seeking a more country feel, a trip out to Banducci’s Family Pumpkin Patch could be just the thing. The Banducci farm is located on Taft Hwy near Buena Vista Road and sits on 15 beautiful acres.  

The family has been planting and selling their own pumpkins every year for 23 years with many customers coming back annually. They are open 7 days a week, and there is no admission fee.  On weekends, children can enjoy a pony ride and corn maze for a nominal price. They also offer field trip packages for an educational look at how pumpkins are grown, a trip through the corn maze, and a “school-size” pumpkin for each child.

The Pumpkin Patch tradition started when Nancy Banducci’s late husband decided it was time to diversify their farming operations; which at other times of the year, focuses on growing alfalfa, cotton, cabbage, and silage corn.

“One year, my husband decided to grow some pumpkins, and I sold them out of our front yard,” Banducci said. “Quite a few people started coming. It kept getting bigger and bigger. So, after five years, we moved it to the back area; where there’s more room and a beautiful pond for taking pictures. After that, it just snowballed into a bigger adventure!” 

For the Banduccis, planting and selling pumpkins is truly a family operation from the kids on down to the 11 grandchildren.

“In June, the grandkids ride on the back of tractors and go down the rows, sitting on a planter low to the ground, and individually hand-plant each pumpkin,” Banducci said. “Each seed has to be put in the ground by hand. Then, family and volunteers sell them in the patch. On weekends, at the end of the night, we sit around the fire for a big meal. It’s a lot of fun.”

They grow a total of 40 varieties and expect to harvest about 10,000 pumpkins including Minis and Big Macs. This year, they’ve added a couple of new colors including bright Neon Green and Cotton Candy (half blue, half pink). They also sell gourds, corn stalks, and straw bales for holiday decorating.

Banducci’s Family Pumpkin Patch is located at 10747 Taft Hwy in Bakersfield. They will be open from Oct. 5th to the 31st. Hours are 9am-7pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-6pm, Sun; and 9am-4pm on Halloween Day. For more information, call (661) 832-2332 or visit their Facebook page.

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