Patch Things Up at The Great Pumpkin Patch
Jean Coon enjoys monitoring the growth of her returning families as much as the growth of her pumpkin business.
Thousands of families every fall flock to Coon’s 16-acre Great Pumpkin Patch for farm-grown pumpkins, a corn maze, private-label jams, farm animals and musical entertainment. And with all that, the most popular photo spot is a wood display titled “How Tall is Fall?” Returning families pause from their activities to check the height of their kids and snap a shot for the photo album.
“More than anything we try to provide families a place to go that is clean and safe,” said Coon, who is in her ninth season. “They can be out in the fresh air and experience some things they don’t normally get to do or be around.”
Select farm families throughout Illinois find their ways into photo albums of their urban counterparts as they open their farm’s goods, educational opportunities and entertainment qualities to the public. With more than 50 pumpkin patches and more than 100 orchards and you-pick farms registered with the Agriculture & Tourism Partners of Illinois Association, most families can find one of these wholesome entertainment venues close to home.
“Agritourism is one of those things that lends itself nicely to that family getaway,” said Bonnie Heimbach, secretary of Agriculture & Tourism Partners of Illinois and executive director of the Northern Illinois Tourism Development Office. “It allows our visitors to come to our rural communities and rural settings and get a first-hand experience on the farm.”
These pumpkin patches and orchards naturally appeal to families because families usually operate them. For example, Coon’s husband Mark and their three children have served significant roles at The Great Pumpkin Patch. And in Spring Grove, three generations of family operate the “World’s Largest Corn Maze” and other attractions at The Richardson Farm.
Farms like these become traditional fall outings and daytrip destinations for families. The attraction increases as the farm owners combine their homegrown products with a petting zoo, wagon rides, corn maze, lunch stand, specialty shops, bakeries, campfires and playgrounds, Heimbach said.
The Great Pumpkin Patch offers a 7-acre corn maze, family-friendly haunted shed, pony rides, petting zoo, giant inflatables, novelty Halloween candy and more. The weekends are filled with pumpkin launching, music, wagon rides, face painting and walking characters, like the Pumpkin Patch Gorilla. The business has grown significantly since its start 27 years ago as a pumpkin stand in Frank and Sue Fiorello’s front yard.
Meanwhile, the fun disguises the educational facet. These farm visits bring together growers and consumers, who engage in conversations about production and processing methods. The weekdays are filled with educational school tours and visits from moms with preschoolers. The weekends promote family time, education and entertainment.
“People who come out to something like this as a family are very happy,” Coon said. “It’s a nice day, and it’s a way to celebrate fall.”
Just remember the camera.