SNOHOMISH — An annual effort by seven local farms is back this fall to bring in pumpkin seekers, corn maze wanderers and adrenaline junkies.
The Snohomish Valley Festival of Pumpkins runs from the last weekend in September through Halloween.
It started as a handful of farmers chipping in a few bucks so they could pay for fliers to advertise Snohomish pumpkin patches in the greater Seattle area, said Keith Stocker, of Stocker Farms. Now, 15 years later, the festival draws an estimated 250,000 people each fall.
“I think all of our grandfathers were dairy farmers at one point,” Stocker said.
As the economy changed, farms faced the pressures of urban sprawl, higher density living and more competition from mass producers. Dairies looked for ways to adapt. In the Snohomish Valley, many found a niche in pumpkins and corn.
The farms that have joined forces for the festival are Bailey Vegetable Farm, Bob’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, Carleton Farm, Craven Farm, The Farm at Swan’s Trail, Stocker Farms and Thomas Family Farm.
By turning competition for customers into teamwork, the farms have been able to draw more people each year. It’s a good location for the greater Seattle area, not too far but still far enough to have open valleys and fresh air, said Darren Carleton, of Carleton Farm.
Nearly all of the farms offer fall staples, including pumpkin patches and corn mazes. However, each one has found something to set it apart.
Carleton is known for homemade pumpkin cannons people can buy tickets to fire. The pumpkins sail over the valley an average of 900 feet.
“In the off-season, when no one is around, that’s our time to play,” Carleton said. “We’ve shot it up to half a mile.”
The farm has added a zip line, and the corn maze has two activities people can choose from as they navigate the field by day or by night.
Stocker takes pride in innovative corn mazes. This year, he has a licensing agreement with the owner of the “Peanuts” cartoon to use the iconic characters from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
“A lot of us grew up with the Peanuts and all of their specials,” Stocker said. “It’s fun to have Snoopy and the gang in the field this year.”
Most of the farms, including Stocker and Carleton, offer night-time thrills with haunted fields and zombie paintball, where people ride out on hay wagons and shoot paintball guns at targets and actors done up as zombies.
Craven Farm steers clear of the scares. The target audience is little kids, with a hayride enlivened by Minion characters from the “Despicable Me” movie franchise and a sing-along with characters from Disney’s “Frozen.”
Sandee Acevedo has worked at the farm most of her life. Her mom and Judy Craven have been friends since elementary school.
“We are definitely geared toward the younger kids,” she said. “When they get older, they head on over to the other farms. But that’s why it works. Everyone offers something different.”
At Bob’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, another bunch of kids’ activities started this weekend. There are apple cannons, a hay slide, a sand pit and corn crib, hay rides and plenty of pumpkins and roasted sweet corn fresh from the field, said Anjie Williams, who helps run the farm store.
One of the joys of inviting people onto the farm each fall is seeing children grow up and come back with their own families.
Carleton added a wedding venue a few years ago. Now kids who grew up going to the pumpkin patch are getting married on the farm.
The goal of the Festival of Pumpkins is to get people thinking about Snohomish and pumpkins the way they think of Mount Vernon and tulips, Stocker said. The farmers in the valley build relationships with the families who visit.
“Whether we’re their farm, or another farm is their farm, they sort of adopt us,” Stocker said. “And we’re grateful, because it makes it possible to make a living. It’s difficult in a commodity world to make a living on a small farm.”
Most of the Snohomish pumpkin patches, corn mazes and haunted attractions opened Friday and Saturday or are set to open this weekend.
For details on what each farm offers, along with activity costs and times, go online to festivalofpumpkins.org.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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