October 2007
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Carroll Farms Pumpkin Patch

 
  Monica Carroll says amid all the concerns of keeping children safe and teaching them during their farm visit, she had another priority - everyone gets a pumpkin to take home.
By Kellie Henderson

Among the quintessential portraits of American childhood is the triumphant grin that comes from selecting the perfect pumpkin on an autumn day, and one family farm in South Alabama is making that experience a little more special and a little more educational.

Carroll Farms near Ozark is a working family farm that has turned their Pumpkin Patch into a vibrant, interactive classroom where children learn about agriculture in an atmosphere of fun.

"I wanted our pumpkin patch to be a field trip that’s as safe, as fun and as educational as possible, while making it as easy on the teachers as I could," said Monica Carroll. "So I used input from several teachers in planning, and I created materials for the teachers to use in advance in their classrooms to prepare the students for their tour of the farm."

On a trip to Carroll Farms Pumpkin Patch, students navigate a 3-acre corn maze, see live farm animals, make their own scarecrows and take that classic hayride to the Pumpkin Patch to select their very own pumpkins.

 
The Carroll’s Pumpkin Patch mascot, Spud the scarecrow, welcomes visiting students to the farm and the lessons about agriculture that await them there.  
"Everyone gets a pumpkin and we rotate groups of students through the individual stations on a schedule. We really want to keep the fun organized and manageable," she said.

Monica and her husband Chris planted their first pumpkin patch in 2004, but Monica said the idea has evolved since then.

"We really just did it the first time for our church and our local school. Another school heard about it and asked to arrange a trip, so we agreed. It was a much smaller scale project then, and we only had about 1,000 children visit that year," said Carroll.

But last year they decided to give it another shot, planning more activities for their visitors and incorporating the pumpkin patch as part of the overall plan for their farm.

"One of the things Chris and I have learned is that we need to keep our farm operational throughout most of the year so we can afford to keep our employees year-round. We couldn’t be successful at any part of our operation without such good help from such good people, and we want to keep them with us," said Carroll.

Since fall was traditionally a down-time for the Carrolls, a pumpkin patch seemed like the perfect solution and Monica said the response has been overwhelming.

"Last year we had about 3,000 visitors to the Pumpkin Patch and just over 2,500 of those were from school tours. This year we’ve already booked 270 visitors before we even got the fliers in the mail, so we’re optimistic," said Carroll.

Spud the Scarecrow is the mascot for Carroll Farms Pumpkin Patch, and she will once again entertain young visitors with games that teach them about the products in their lives that come from farms.

"Part of what we wanted to do with the Pumpkin Patch was educate young people about how important agriculture is in our lives and show them how much we benefit from farming. It’s something we all need to appreciate," said Carroll.

They’ve also made some improvements since last year.

"We’ve added questions about farming to the corn maze, so children can recall the agricultural information from lessons with their teacher to lead them in the right direction. And we’ve added some new play equipment in Spud’s Playland that we think the kids are going to love," she said.

Carroll said most students’ favorite part of last year’s tours was making a scarecrow to take back to their classroom, an event that will again be a feature of their trip.

"Everyone is involved, even the teachers, and the children enjoy picking a name for their scarecrow. Some groups put their scarecrow in the classroom, while others used it as part of their school’s fall display. We even had one church group make a seated scarecrow, and the following Sunday he was a special visitor at their services," Carroll said.

This year they are reserving Saturdays for group bookings, like churches.

"Fall festivals have gotten to be a big deal for lots of churches and we’d love to have them visit the Pumpkin Patch as part of their fun," she said.

In addition to spending fall in the Pumpkin Patch, Chris, Monica and their children Brittany, age 7, and Blake, age 6, grow produce during the summer (and greens for the holidays) and host deer and turkey hunts in season. They also have four broiler houses and a cattle pre-conditioning operation, which has their farm operating nearly year round.

"We’ve really been blessed," said Carroll. "The good Lord has given us some great people to work with and we get to spend more time together as a family than most people."

And while it’s easy to hear in Carroll’s voice how much she loves farming, her love of family is even more evident. "I don’t think I’ll ever forget one time Chris had taken Blake out hunting, I looked out across the field and I saw them coming back home. Both all covered in camouflage, Blake walking right behind Chris, carrying their hunting seats in his arms. I remember wishing I had a camera, but I think that picture will always be with me anyway, my son and his Daddy coming home across the pasture, doing something they both love. That’s why we do what we do here."

For more information on Carroll Farms Pumpkin Patch or to book a tour, call 334-774-0532 or visit their website at
www.4ccattle.com.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.