Time for an autumn adventure
This may be the first year that Rob and Beverly Phillips have invited the public to a pumpkin patch at their rural Lawrence home, but chances are, it won't be the last.
Near the barn Saturday afternoon, workers carved pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, so a planned 300 jack-o-lanterns would illuminate the farm for Halloween.
Meanwhile, children clamor for pony rides, and nearby, families climb aboard horse-drawn wagons for a ride out to the 17-acre pumpkin patch where an estimated 17,000 pumpkins scattered across the ground wait to be picked.
As children coax parents to the far end of the pumpkin patch in search of just the right "great pumpkin" to deck their porches for Halloween, teams of Belgian horses await. It is a windy and dry autumn day and the horses' hooves and wagon wheels kick up a cloud of fine dust, but nobody seems to mind, for this is a fun day in the country at Free State Farm.
And much of it is a free day.
Rob Phillips, who runs the Eldridge Hotel, said he and his wife opened a bed and breakfast in the tall yellow Victorian house that presides over the farm, in January, and opened the pumpkin patch this month.
Some of the activities are free of charge, Phillips said. This includes the petting zoo and bunny meadow, a run through the "Great Pumpkin Castle Maze," an open-roofed structure built from hay bales, and rides to the pumpkin patch.
A fee is charged for individual pony rides for children, refreshments, scarecrow craft items and for the pumpkins themselves, Phillips said.
Phillips said he's not sure yet if this will be a money-making venture.
"We hope to pay our bills, but no matter what, it's been an awful lot of fun," he said. "This is a heck of a good way to make a living, fun-wise."
About 10 employees are working at the farm now, he said.
Inside the barn where refreshments are served, Phillips' sister, Frances Hays, a retired school teacher from Osawatomie, sells slices of pumpkin pies.
"Every week I gather up pumpkins and take them home and cook them," Hays said. Today she has brought 14 pies. The slices sell quickly, as one would imagine. Although no official count of visitors had been taken, Hays estimated that on weekends about 600 visitors come to the farm each day. Free State-Farm's pumpkin patch will be open seven days a week through Halloween. It is located 1.5 miles north of the Tanger outlet mall.
A Topeka man, Vince Foster, and his wife, Tami, brought their two sons, Cole, 5, and Cody, 4, to the pumpkin patch late Saturday afternoon. As his sons raced in and out of the maze, Foster said, "I think this place is great. There is a lot of activity going on lots of things to do to keep the kids busy."