Every fall, as the leaves turn from green to orange, and the pumpkins grow bigger and bigger, pumpkin patches across Nebraska welcome visitors. Children and families pick pumpkins, run through a corn maze and spend time with animals at the petting zoo.
Maria Bledsoe and her family bought a small farmhouse near Blair in 2003 as a real estate investment. Her husband, Jeff, had different plans.
“My husband stepped foot in the driveway, looked at it and said, ‘This is gonna be a pumpkin patch someday,’” Bledsoe said. “We were not farmers, and we didn’t grow a garden. We didn’t have any of that, but he wanted to start something where we could work alongside our five children and have them be a part of it.”
Four years later, Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch opened. The family simultaneously owned and operated an automotive repair shop in Omaha.
Maly Pumpkin Patch started as a family affair as well, when Ava Maly came home with a bunch of pumpkins.
“My wife walked in, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we live on 10 acres. You don’t have to buy those,’” said Kurt Maly, a realtor from Wahoo. “I tend to get carried away with what I do, and the first year was a pretty big patch, so we shared with a lot of friends and neighbors. We did that for about two years.”
The Malys took the pumpkins to the Saunders County Museum to try and sell them the following two years.
“In the meantime, my patch just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Maly said. “And then, four years ago, we started strictly doing it at our house and advertising on Facebook.”
Mashaela Wolken and her husband, Ryan, who have five children, also wanted to start a family business in Norfolk. An opportunity presented itself when the original owners of Poppy’s Pumpkin Patch, the Hintz family, put it on the market in 2017.
“[Poppy’s] came on the market so we jumped on it,” Mashaela Wolken said. “I’m a nurse, so I wanted to stay home more with my kids but also incorporate something that can involve them.”
Wolken said small-town pumpkin patches contribute greatly to the communities they’re a part of.
“It really supports us local farmers, and even buying your pumpkin from the small pumpkin patches helps,” Wolken said. “And then, when people come from an hour or two away, they stop in Norfolk, and they eat or they go shopping. So, it helps the community by using their business, as well.”
Owning a pumpkin patch isn’t all fun and games, however, and doesn’t always go off without a hitch. About seven weeks ago, a large hail storm rolled through southeast Nebraska, which caused problems for Maly Pumpkin Patch.
“The vines were completely shredded, and there were no leaves left,” Maly said. “Some were mature enough to handle it, but some were so severe that they just melted away into the ground.”
Luckily, within about three days of the storm, Maly walked through the field and saw flowers already popping up. About a month later, the patch looked as good as it did before the storm, and they have plenty of pumpkins to sell this year.
Going into the fall season, Wolken is excited to see schools coming back after COVID.
“My favorite thing is seeing the kids’ excitement when they arrive, and that’s what makes it fun,” Wolken said. “Last year, we still had a great crowd because we do it on 19 acres. This year just feels a little different.”
Bledsoe also looks at life differently after the last year and a half.
“It’s just so rewarding to see everyone outside in big, open green spaces again being able to enjoy themselves, and it seems like life is normal.”
All three pumpkin patches are now open for the fall 2021 season. For more information, visit http://www.skinnybonespumpkinpatch.com/, https://www.facebook.com/malypumpkinpatch/, and https://www.poppyspumpkinpatch.com/.