With only a handful of weeks to sell their crop, pumpkin farmers across the country say special features are the key to enticing customers. While not all growers open their doors to walk-in customers looking for a carving pumpkin, experts at Penn State say there are 50,000 acres of pumpkins planted each year in the U.S., generating more than $100 million in revenues. About half of those acres are located in the northeastern United States. Ron Brigati, owner of Melville, NY’s White Post Farms, says his family-owned farm has been in operation since 1886. While folks in Washington, D.C. may beg to differ, Brigati says so far, it’s been a great season for pumpkins. “We’ve had spectacular weather … As long as the weather’s good, people come out with their families and young children,” says Brigati. In rainy seasons, Brigati says pumpkins tend to rot more quickly, so the relatively warm, dry fall in New York has kept the pumpkins firm. Brigati sells his pumpkins for 69 cents a pound – a price he says he hasn’t changed in years. “The economy’s tough – we’re trying to work with everybody,” says Brigati.Fun Features a Big Sell Brigati says he and his family try to turn pumpkin picking into a full-day outing, thanks to exotic animals and inflatable jumping toys for kids. “We try to give you something for the whole day,” says Brigati, who says the farm boasts camels and exotic birds in addition to regular farm animals. In Hebron, Ohio, Devine Farms owner Charla Devine says her 96-acre farm attracts kids with a barrel train ride. And since the pumpkin season is short in Ohio, due to cold weather, Devine and her husband stay open seven days a week. “We see thousands of visitors,” says Devine. “On Monday through Friday we have school field trips, and on weekends we have family activities.” Devine says they’ve developed educational activities that meet Ohio standards for pre-K through 1st graders. “We talk about grains on the farm, what they look like and about the importance of pollination,” says Devine. Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, Devine Farms is staying open for an additional weekend this year; like Brigati, Devine says they’ve been able to raise a good crop of large pumpkins. In Athens, Georgia, farmer John Washington is also catering to kids. “We have field trips – we’ll have about 600 or 700 kids here each morning. It keeps us busy,” says Washington, whose wife, a former teacher, does educational talks on the farm. Like the other pumpkin farmers, however, there’s a healthy dose of fun at Washington Farms. In addition to a petting zoo and farm with peacocks, donkeys, goats and rabbits, Washington Farms offers an 8.5-acre corn maze as well as inflatable jumping pillows. Unlike the others, though, Washington says the weather hasn’t been quite as ideal for pumpkin growers in the Southeast. “For smaller pumpkins, they’ve been really difficult this year. We’ve had so much rain! Everybody thinks rain is great, but you can have too much of a good thing,” says Washington.
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