In June, near Emerado, N.D., Carrie and Todd Nelson received 12 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, drowning out 13 of their 15 pumpkin acres. In its 24th year, Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch still opened in September, despite no pumpkins for visitors to purchase. The family implemented COVID-19 guidelines, such as keeping a “cow’s length apart” from other groups and requiring masks in specific areas or rides.
On opening day, Carrie’s father unexpectedly passed away. No pumpkins, a pandemic and then a deep family loss.
Nelson's Pumpkin Patch is in its 24th year of operating near Emerado, N.D. and is a part of Todd and Carrie Nelson's farm which also grows small grains, edible beans, row crops and honeybees. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
I admire people who create solutions and find ways to carry on. I think pumpkin patch visitors would have understood if the Nelsons took a year off during this trying season. Instead, Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch, which spans 35 acres and includes far more than pumpkins, is open for business. I made my first visit last weekend with my kids, brothers, sister-in-law, cousin’s fiancée, nephews and niece.
I visited Nelson’s Facebook page prior to our visit to read about their COVID-19 precautions. It wasn’t until I went to pay admission that I read the sign about no pumpkins. Would there be enough to entertain the kids if we weren’t going to pick out pumpkins?
A grain bin bar area is a popular adult outdoor gathering space at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, N.D. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Spread out across a farmyard, we found more activities than I ever imagined to entertain our kid crew, ranging in age from toddler to tween. Two corn mazes, one 14 acres and the other two acres are covered by your $8 admission. There’s also farm animals to see and pet; a hayride; pedal tricycles and a track; a corn cob cannon, which launches corn cobs at an old John Deere combine; an area to play in corn; a bee train; a storybook trail with activities along the way; and, the kids’ favorite, a haunted barn. To round out the activities, there’s a gift shop and a grain bin bar, which is brilliant business planning. No longer is a pumpkin patch just about pumpkins or activities for the kids — it can be a social outing for adults without kids or adults who brought babysitters along to watch their kids.
Carrie Nelson and her husband, Todd, operate Nelson's Pumpkin Patch near Emerado, N.D. This year, 13 acres of planted pumpkins drown out in June. With COVID-19 precautions in place, they opened for their 24th business season with other activities in place for guests to experience on their farm. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
I took a few minutes to visit with Carrie. The pumpkin patch started with her bringing her second grade classes and then her friends’ classes to visit the farm during her 30-year teaching career. She convinced her husband she could have a pumpkin patch as a side gig. They also host bus tours and various events at their farm outside of the pumpkin patch season for others to learn about farming and their honey business, which consists of 700 hives.
Riders of the bee train at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch wear cloth masks as a COVID-19 precaution. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
The Nelsons' agritourism endeavor is agriculture education at its finest. In addition to pumpkins and honey, they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, canola and pinto beans on the farm that has been in their family since 1880.
According to Carrie, 2018 was a “tough growing season” for pumpkins followed by record fall moisture in 2019. They didn’t think it could get any worse, and then 2020 hit, drowning out their pumpkins and bringing “a lot of concerns around the pandemic,” Nelson shared.
“It is a reality of farming that things don’t go the way you want them to,” she said.
Kids burn off energy on pedal tricycles around the track at Nelson's Pumpkin Patch. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
In 2021, Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch will celebrate 25 years in business. “The best is yet to come,” Nelson said, with a confident smile spreading across her face. That tiny nugget of wisdom from one farm woman to another was so uplifting to my soul.
The bell rang as the hayride approached. Laughter filled the air. I pointed out my family members to Carrie, some were unloading from the hayride and my son and brother watched from nearby. The Saturday outing to Nelson’s Pumpkin Patch filled our family group with new memories in a year when simple pleasures have often felt out of reach.
If you’re feeling drowned out like the pumpkinless pumpkin patch, just remember, the best is yet to come. And next year, I’ll be back to support the Nelson’s in their 25th year, hopefully with a bounty of pumpkins in the patch.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.