This story also appears on the OC Weekly food blog.
This time of year, commercial pumpkin “patches” sprout up overnight in asphalt parking lots, replete with enough incandescent lighbulbs to power a cut-rate riverboat casino. Which got me thinking – surely there must be farms in our paved-over county where pumpkins actually grow in the earth? Where can we take the kidlets to pick their own pumpkins off the vine? There’s not many, but here are some more interesting (and cheaper!) options than buying your jack o’ lantern pumpkins at the supermarket.
Westminster High School FFA
You’ve seen their pumpkin patch as you zip past on the 405 freeway. This working farm belongs to the school’s Future Farmers of America program, which sells their harvest of pumpkins and fruit every Wednesday afternoon at the farmer’s market at the Westminster Mall. But once every year, the farm is open to the public during it’s annual Fall Festival. This year, it’s Saturday October 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Newly hired faculty instructor Dave Bentz says, “we’ll have pumpkins for sale, face painting, dunk tank, pumpkin carving. The infamous ‘goldfish booth’ is coming back. I wasn’t here for that last year for that, so you’ll have to come to find out.”
Co-instructor Dave Eusantos notes they grow “six varieties of jack o’ lantern pumpkins, including Fairytales and White Ghost pumpkins. We have big ones and little ones for the young kids, ranging from $1 to $5 dollars”
Admission is $5 per person, which includes burgers, dogs, chips and soda. The FFA students man the games booths and the petting zoo (which are not just animals hired for the event, but the farm’s own livestock). All proceeds from the event support the FFA.
Bentz says during the rest of the year, “the public can still can support us by going to the Westminster Farmer’s Market and buying our product. When persimmons ripen, we’ll send those over, also avocados. I teach a floral class, so we’ll be sending our pumpkin-themed flower designs there. Any time someone makes a contribution to the FFA, we’re a tax free organization so it’s a tax benefit.”
Westminster High School 14325 Goldenwest St., Westminster (714) 893-1381
To get to the farm: enter from Goldenwest Street, turn onto Main Street into campus, and follow it past the football fields until you reach the farm.
Can’t wait that long to go pick pumpkins? Tanaka Farms in Irvine welcomes the public daily to pick pumpkins from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no admission fee. The Tanaka family has been farming since 1941, and third generation farmer Kenny Tanaka says, “we’ve been doing the pumpkin patch for about 20 years now. It first started off with guided tours around the fields, then developed into wagon rides, petting zoo, corn maze and pick your own pumpkins”
“These days, we’ll drive you over to the field on the wagon, and then it’s self guided after that. We have a 30 acre farm, and you’ll see most of it on the wagon ride. We have baby goats, baby lambs, baby lambs, a couple of llamas in our petting zoo. On weekends, we have games like pumpkin basketball shoots. We’re giving ATV rides, and built a pedal-cart course out in the field.”
Cost for individuals are $3 for the petting zoo, $5 for the wagon ride, and U-pick pumpkins are sold by weight. Kids aged 2 and under are free. A 6-8 pound pumpkin runs $3.25, and there’s a sliding scale from there, up to a 30 pound pumpkin. School and youth groups can arrange for all-inclusive package rates.
The award wining BBQ team from The Rub Company out of Buena Park will be smoking Santa Maria style tri tip and pulled pork on Saturdays and Sundays. Tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches are $6, hot dogs $3 and BBQ corn $2.50.
Tanaka Farms 5380 3/4 University Dr., Irvine (949) 653-2100 www.tanakafarms.com
South Countians can head over to South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano. They are one of the few local farmers growing organic pie pumpkins, which are sweeter and better suited to baking. They do not grow jack o’ lantern pumpkins, so you can’t take the kids for a pick-from-the-field experience. They truck those in from elsewhere, and you choose from pumpkins set up in their farm stand parking lot. General manager Rebecca says on Saturdays and Sundays, they offer “more old-fashioned activities, like butter churning, and not the ‘carnival-ly’ activities” you’d see at an asphalt pumpkin patch.
South Coast Farms 32701 Alipaz St., San Juan Capistrano (949) 661-9381 www.southcoastfarms.com
Another one-weekend event, and a big one at that, is Cal Poly Pomona’s annual Pumpkin Festival and Insect Fair on October 16 & 17. A pancake breakfast is offered only on Saturday from 8a.m. to 11 a.m. There will be thousands of pumpkins in the field. There will be games, a petting zoo, horse rides. Bug out over the College of Agriculture’s display of 500,000 or so insects.
Pumpkins cost $5 each (beach ball size) or 5 for $20 (Oct. 16 & 17 only)
Insect Fair: $6 adults; $4 students and children 3-12 years; 2 and under are free!
Pancake Breakfast (Saturday from 8am – 11am): $5 adults, $4 kids 12 and under
Prices for individual activities such as horse rides and the petting zoo vary.
Organized groups (schools, scouts, etc) can arrange for private U-pick trips the week prior to the festival.
Cal Poly Pomona Pumpkin Festival and Insect Fair October 16 – 17, 2010. 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cal Poly Pomona Farm Store 4102 S. University Drive, Pomona (909) 869-4906