Pumpkin-patch visit gives kids lasting memories
For a fun family autumn activity, Western Pennsylvania farmers recommend bringing your beloved little pumpkins out to romp in a real patch of gourds.
Several area farms and other organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, offer pumpkin patches where kids can pick out their family's own Halloween pumpkins and have a blast while doing it.
For many families, a trip to the pumpkin patch is a much-loved tradition, says Katie Voll of Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park.
"It's an experience that a lot of children from the city don't get to see too often," Voll says. She is a member of the Soergel family and one of the assistant managers of the business.
"They're going out to the farm and seeing where pumpkins grow instead of picking them off a shelf somewhere," she says. "They can search for the exact pumpkins that they want, the exact size and shape they want."
Parents also tend to get adorable, memorable photos of their little ones playing in the pumpkin patches, Voll says.
Don't worry about recent media reports about the fungus causing pumpkin rot, officials say. It's not contagious to people, and few pumpkins are affected by it, says Eric Oesterling, an agent with the Westmoreland County office of the Penn State Cooperative Extension.
"There's always diseases of whatever crop you're trying to grow ... it's no disaster by any means," he says. "Good growers know how to minimize those kinds of problems.
"All the better commercial growers that I've talked to have a good crop this year," he says.
To make sure you get a good gourd, Oesterling recommends inspecting pumpkins to make sure the skin is firm, orange and free of soft spots.
At the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers, Washington County, museum officials import a bundle of pumpkins from nearby Trax Farms Market in Union. They create a pumpkin patch behind the museum, and kids can enter it when they have completed their trolley rides through the area's fall foliage. Once they choose their pumpkins, the kids can decorate them with markers and other materials provided by the museum, says Lynn Caffrey, visitor services manager.
Watching the kids in the pumpkin patch is a hoot, she says.
"They run around, and they check them all out; it's fun to watch," Caffrey says. "They usually go from this one to that one until they find the perfect one ... it becomes a real family event."
Pick a pumpkin
A selection of pumpkin patches around the region for kids:
Soergel Orchards 2573 Brandt School Road Franklin Park 724-935-1743
Tractor hayrides to and from the pumpkin patch are available 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $1 per ride.
Trax Farms Market 528 Trax Road Union, Washington County 412-835-3246
One ticket to the Trax Farms Fall Festival buys admission for a hayride, cornfield maze and pumpkin-patch shuttle to and from the patch. The shuttles run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $8; $6 for ages 4-12.
Pennsylvania Trolley Museum 1 Museum Road Chartiers, Washington County 724-228-9256
The museum will host its Pumpkin Patch Trolley event from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. $7; $6 for senior citizens; $4 for ages 3-15.
Cheeseman Farms 226 Cheeseman Road (1 1/2 miles from Route 19) Butler County 724-368-3233
The Pumpkin Festival -- which includes hayrides to the pumpkin patch, a petting zoo, hay maze and more -- runs from noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Hayrides cost $4.
Janoski's Pumpkinland 1714 State Route 30 Clinton 724-899-3438
Janoski's pumpkin patch is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and groups can visit during the week by reservation. A $5 fee will earn admission to everything, including hayrides to the pumpkin patch and a haunted barn.
Harvest Valley Farms 125 Ida Lane Middlesex, Butler County 724-443-5869
The pumpkin patch is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Visitors can walk to the patch at no charge, and other activities at the farms will be free, including hayrides, a cornstalk maze and live entertainment.
Hozak Farms 488 Anderson-Hozak Road Hanover, Beaver County724-899-2400
The pumpkin patch is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 2-5 p.m. weekdays. Admission is free, and activities include hayrides to the pumpkin patch, face-painting and pony rides.
Triple B Farms 823 Berry Lane Bunola 724-258-3557
The pumpkin patch is available 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 4-7 p.m. weekdays. Hayrides cost $2, which also covers admission to several activities such as a funny farm, petting zoo and haunted barn.
Schramm Farms & Orchards 1002 Blank Road Penn, Westmoreland County 724-744-7320
The pumpkin patch is available 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays. Although visitors can reach the patch by walking, hayrides are available from around 4 p.m. to dusk on weekdays, and about 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends. Hayrides cost $2, which covers admission to the corn maze and other activities.