Autumn is one of those times where almost every day seems to bring perfect weather for being outside. And not only does it feel good to BE outside, there are loads of fun things to DO outside this time of year! And the one thing that almost all families look for once the leaves start to change is a PUMPKIN PATCH! As a former elementary school teacher, I’ve actually been to my fair share and then some of pumpkin patches over the years – and I can firmly state that all pumpkin patches are NOT created equal! Most are pretty good at providing a farm experience for your children (though some are more authentic than others). However, while some are a great value, others have lots of hidden costs that really can add up by the time your whole family has had an afternoon’s worth of fun.
So before you clean out your minivan to make room for grandma, grandpa, and the BIGGEST pumpkin you can carry, read these tips first. Oh, and I do realize it’s the end of October, and my post might be a little bit ill-timed for some areas of the country who are already seeing snow. But after seeing the difference this year’s pumpkin patch (Hall Family Farm) made on our wallets as well as our enjoyment over last year’s (Hunter Farm), I figured the topic was still worth covering. Besides, the modus operandi is usually more of less the same for most seasonal outdoor events – be it for farms, petting zoos, county fairs, etc. So if you spent too much this year on pumpkins, most of these tips will still apply next spring for strawberry season!
Here’s how to get the best bang for your buck at your next visit to a local farm –
1. Research Ahead of Time - Ironically, sometimes a good outdoor experience at the farm starts off indoors on the computer. Most farms nowadays have websites where you can research the answers to any questions you might have. Take note of the hours, pricing, and activities offered. You might even find some online discounts as well!
2. Stick with a Budget - One of the reasons pre-Patch research is important is so you’ll know how to set a budget for the event. Some farms have one price per person that covers everything. This works out great if everyone in your family wants to partake in every activity offered. More often, however, the individual activities are priced “a la carte.” The good news about that is that you don’t have to pay for the things you don’t want to do. But the bad news is that if you’re not careful, you can nickel and dime yourself pretty easily.
3. Pumpkin Pricing - If you come away with only one item from the farm that day, odds are good it will be a big, orange pumpkin. Some farms include a pumpkin with each admission, which sounds like a bargain. Sometimes it is, but I’ve found that all too often the “free” ones tend to be too small for carving, so you end up buying another one anyway. Most farms price their pumpkins per pound, and you’d be amazed at what some of these suckers can weigh (and unlike the grocery store, there isn’t a scale over in the next aisle to preview your cost with!) Although if you have a small toddler, you at least have some semblance of comparison! At the patch we went to this year, there was actually a $15 dollar limit per pumpkin – meaning that the price was capped at $15 regardless of weight. At most farms the pumpkins are already off the vine by the time the “pickers” come around, so if you get to the counter and realized you grotesquely underestimated your pumpkin’s weight, don’t be afraid to take it back and choose a more modest replacement.
4. Take advantage of FREE play - It seems like every time I turn my computer on I see another study touting the host of benefits from UNSTRUCTURED play time for kids. It’s tempting to feel like you have to partake in all the offerings at the farm, but if your kid is perfectly happy running around the pumpkin patch or jumping off a bale of hay, don’t stop him/her. Our pumpkin patch had several activities that were available without charge – a giant sandbox (complete with a whole fleet of bulldozers!), a tractor, and a “fort” made out of hay. The only activities with a fee were the corn maze (which looked amazing, but too old for C right now), and the hay ride (which C wasn’t into, much to his allergic father’s relief). That meant that in the 3 hours we were there, the only thing we paid for were the three pumpkins we bought – a giant daddy pumpkin (that was capped at $15…), a medium sized mommy pumpkin (which will be perfect for carving), and a little Cragbaby pumpkin (which likes to sit beside the mommy pumpkin on our front steps). Had we not decided to splurge a little with the pumpkins, we easily could have walked away with a perfect carving pumpkin and a perfect family morning for less than $10.
5. Dress appropriately – Any pumpkin patch worth visiting will be at an actual farm…and I would be remiss not to remind you how difficult it is to stay clean on a farm. Giant puddles, muddy paths, and sometimes even cow patties, are all everyday occurrences on a functioning farm. Dress your child in something that’s okay to get dirty – and then let them explore (although you should probably teach them to avoid the cow patty…) If you are headed somewhere else afterwards, be sure to bring a change of clothes. I was absolutely floored when I arrived at the pumpkin patch this year and realized that I had apparently missed the memo about wearing stiletto boots, glittery jeans, and gold hoop earrings. I had no idea that so many people felt the need to dress up for a trip to the pumpkin patch! My real disappointment, however, was when I overheard one stiletto mom tell her seasonal sweater-clad child not to get in the sandbox because he would get dirty. She was so adamant about it, an innocent observer would have assumed the child was asking to roll around in the mud. Instead he stood idly beside his mom, clutching her leg while he longingly watched C and the other boys excavating to their hearts content.
So with a little bit of forethought, it’s pretty easy to enjoy your annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage without breaking the bank! And if you’re in the Charlotte area, I would definitely recommend a visit to Hall Family Farm. Does anyone else have a favorite family farm to recommend? Feel free to list it in the comments section (along with what city/state it’s located in) – it’d be great to compile a list of favorites!