Agri-Tourism at its Best: Central Oregon’s Pumpkin Company
“We are in the elephant’s tusk. See, right here!” My 10-year-old map-reading guide was leading us; following each turn through the unchanging view of cornstalks. Only a few minutes before, we had been lost, unsure if we were in the monkey’s face or savannah grass. We’d found ourselves using the barn roof and cliffs of Smith Rocks as reference points, turning our map to line up with the direction of the two things we could see outside the maze. Now, Marlie was on track, deftly leading our safari through an acacia and the lion’s mane to the exit.
We laugh as we share what has become a tradition for our family; losing ourselves in the cornfield maze and loading huge pumpkins into a wagon, choosing just the right ones from the pumpkin patch. This is the real deal, many of these beauties (and a handful of icky rotten ones, too) are still attached to the vine; they really did grow here. This family farm plans its crops around the crowds they can attract in the fall, rather than the market forecast for harvest. In return, the Central Oregon community waits each year to discover the theme and see the design of the new season’s corn maze.
Across our country the traditional family farm is being absorbed by large corporate ones or developed for housing. Agricultural families have had to look into other sources of revenue to stay afloat, finding ways to add value or reach the end consumer directly. Wheat ranchers make and market their own pancake mix, rather than sell all of their wheat as flour, increasing their revenue per acre. Ranchers bring in tourist with ideas ranging from a fruit stand or u-pick fields to farm stays and dude ranches. Agri-tourism at its best is found here at the Central Oregon Pumpkin Company.The whole experience is small-town, down-home, with a petting zoo, horse drawn wagons, and cotton candy booth. A tractor pulls a train of wooden animal seats teaming with toddlers, and huge air cannons shoot small pumpkins through the fields. We love the nostalgic glimpse into our almost-forgotten rural-agricultural heritage. After a satisfying ramble through the corn and loading our assortment of oversized pumpkins into the back of the car, we head back to our electronically connected lives, taking with us a small appreciation for lives connected with the land.