Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Isaias may have squashed local pumpkin crops, but some farms are finding a way to get by

The general store at Pumpkinville is open, but patrons are asked to abide by safety guidelines put in place by Governor Northam by wearing a mask inside. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Barry Allen)

The coronavirus has taken a lot away this year, but one seasonal joy the pandemic hasn’t ruined is pumpkin picking.

But remember the tropical storm with the name few could pronounce properly?

Turns out, Isaias is to blame for crop destruction this year.

When people think of hurricane season, rarely do they think of the nasty effects storms can have on finding the perfect carving pumpkin come Halloween.

Barry Allen, co-owner of Pumpkinville in James City County, said he and his brother drove up to the mountains three times last weekend to buy pumpkins so they could have enough this year.

And he said he would be making another trip the following day.

“The local pumpkin crops are terrible because of all the rain we had,” Allen said. “We do have a few in a patch in an upper part of New Kent, but nothing like it should be.”

Pumpkinville is a bit different than other farms in the area, since they are only open throughout the month of October. Allen said they will still be open this year, but safety guidelines will be in place.

For example, the number of people on a hayride will be limited and signs will be put up reminding people to maintain social distance.

“There is no requirement for wearing a mask outside, but we do ask people to wear a mask when they enter our general store,” Allen said.

One of the vendors at Pumpkinville sell painted pumpkins and even offers to paint pumpkins brought to their table. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Barry Allen)

Aside from pumpkins, Pumpkinville also offers fall decorations, assorted jellies and jams, chrysanthemums, squash, and gourds.

Stephanie Dean Ripchick, owner of Holly Fork Farm in New Kent County, said she also had to order pumpkins from other farms. They lost nearly 85% of their crops.

“There’s been no complaints from our patrons,” Ripchick said. “They’re just happy we’re open and happy we’re outside.”

Aside from weather challenges, the pandemic has also taken a toll on Holly Fork Farm. Ripchick said they lost roughly 80% of their field trip base.

“I’m up for a challenge,” she said. “Business is important but safety is more important.”

Some of the operational changes include having two or three hayrides running at all times, social distancing at check-out and temperature checks for employees. Holly Fork Farm also hired extra help to keep up with sanitization.

But not all farms were as fortunate to remain open this season.

This is the first time in 37 years Belmont Pumpkin Farm in Mathews County had to close for the fall season. All the crops, including pumpkins, sunflowers, and corn, were destroyed by Tropical Storm Isaias.

“Our corn maze is still in water,” said Cammie Gustafson-Flanagan, owner of Belmont Farm. Isaias brought roughly seven inches of rain in one week, and the following week, the farm got 11 inches of rain.
“The sunflowers only got a foot tall because of all that rain, so we decided we had to close,” she said.

Usually, the farm has six-and-a-half acres of pumpkins, three acres for sunflowers, and four acres for the corn maze. Belmont Farm also sells jams, apple butters, and chrysanthemums while also offering various family-friendly activities.

Gustafson-Flanagan said closing this season was probably for the best, since she wasn’t sure the farm could keep up with the required safety measures.

“If it was going to happen, I’m glad it at least happened this year, since we’re kind of stuck at home anyway,” she said.

But just because the farm is closed for the season doesn’t mean the work stops. Gustafson-Flanagan, on the phone last week, said she was just about to go to the store to pick up seeds for a cover crop. This crop is then ploughed to provide the soil with nitrogen and give the next crop an extra nutrition boost.

She added she and her family are also expanding their barn, kitchen, and playground.

For the springtime, if the pandemic is over by then, Gustafso-Flanagan said they would like to host music festivals. If not, Belmont Farm plans to have more sunflowers next year.


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