October 2014
Farm & Field

Mystery in the Pumpkin Patch

 
Chuck and Angie Yeargan spend part of their days checking out their vegetable crop when not preparing for October’s Pumpkin Patch festival.  

Yeargan Farms Adds Twist to the Conventional Corn Maze

Pumpkin patches abound across Alabama during the fall, but Chuck and Angie Yeargan have come up with an added twist – a corn maze "mystery" to solve.

It involves the apparent disappearance of "Farmer Joe" somewhere in the mile-long winding maze that’s one of several featured attractions at the Valley Grande site just outside Selma off Highway 14.

"We’re asking people who come to our Pumpkin Patch to determine which farm animal is ‘guilty,’" said Angie. "It seems Joe is missing and there are signs of ‘foul’ play."

In order to solve the mystery, visitors will be asked to investigate several farm animal "suspects" by collecting evidence hidden throughout the maze.

A real "whodunnit," the mystery’s creators have put together a list of "culprit" possibilities including "Antonio de Llama," "Billy the Goat," "Boots the Dog," "Jean the Lubber Duck," "Mary, Kary and Shary the Gossip Chicks," "Theodore the Bull" and "Frank the Pig."

It’s all in fun, of course, and visitors will be given clues during their stroll through the maze to determine which one is the "guilty" party.

Yeargan Farms’ Pumpkin Patch is one of many agricultural indicators in Alabama that fall has arrived, summer’s heat is about to depart and Christmas is just around the corner.

 
  “Scamp” Yeargan has the run of the family farm in Dallas County and enjoys relaxing and napping around big piles of bright orange pumpkins – a perfect setting for the couple’s annual Pumpkin Patch event that runs throughout October. (Credit: Jason Kopp)

For the Yeargans, it’s a perfect way to give back to their county and those surrounding it in Alabama’s Black Belt.

"This is Chuck’s dream," Angie said. "He always wanted to own a farm and do something for families. This is our second year at the Pumpkin Patch and we expect it to continue growing."

The Yeargans have planted 4 acres of pumpkins and the yield is in the thousands of bright orange "inhabitants." It’s a wonderful way to greet the new season and continues through October.

"We didn’t know if we were doing the right thing because this has required a lot of work, but it’s been a great experience for us as we watched it take shape," Angie added.

"Angie and Chuck are workaholics," said Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma. "It doesn’t matter if it involves their business, their church or any other venture; they pour their hearts and souls into it."

Hard work defines the two, who haven’t had much time to rest until recently, after decades of building their construction company into one of the largest its size in Alabama.

Chuck, who grew up in neighboring Chilton County, began as a welder and fabricator. He used his experience as a basis for what came later while Angie was a legal secretary with dreams of one day becoming a lawyer herself.

"Chuck’s creativity is amazing because he can build just about anything," said Wood, whose business has provided fertilizer, corn seed and other items for the Yeargans at their farm. "He’s quite innovative and it’s a treat to see his latest addition."

Angie shelved her law career idea and shifted to the construction business. It’s been a very successful enterprise, one that has reaped millions of dollars in government contracts to build and refurbish facilities across the South.

Angie’s Cherokee ancestry helped because of available federal funds for women and minorities – something they took advantage of and turned it into an enormous success.

 
This bright orange “pumpkin” is a favorite photo backdrop for visitors to the Yeargan Farms Pumpkin Patch in Dallas County.  

"We started slowly, building our construction business to the point where it is today," she said. "We’ve been involved in five states and have worked hard for many years."

Honored as one of America’s leading female construction company owners, Angie has joined her husband as a partner in creating a farm on what she said was first considered for part of a golf course.

Competitive companies submitted attractive bids on those construction projects, but the Yeargans were successful from the start and have built an operation far exceeding their bare-bones beginning.

At first, all they had were themselves and one other employee. They knew it would take a lot of work to become successful and they made it happen.

"We pounded the pavement and did a massive amount of marketing," Angie said. "We also sold some property and lived off of that until we got settled. Then things began to grow."

Yeargan Pumpkin Patch:

Dates: Oct. 1-31
Monday-Thursday: Field trips and groups only
Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Contact:
Phone: 334-375-2424
Address: Yeargan Farms, 14764 Highway 14 West, Valley Grande, AL 36701
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website: www.yeargan.com 

One of the company’s first major contracts was renovating the huge Veterans Administration Hospital in Montgomery. Work at  Maxwell Air Force Base also enhanced their bottom line.

After that came a $5 million contract at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. It was the start of a 15-year construction relationship with that state.

Instead of three people, up to 75 employees once found work at  Yeargan Construction Co., with the annual payroll soaring into the millions of dollars.

"They took an idea and moved it forward through hard work," said Jamie Wallace, one of the Black Belt’s most knowledgeable industrial experts. "The company has gone through some tough economic times, but it has persevered. Their faith played a major role in their success story."

One of the company’s most satisfying projects involved the renovation of 581 trailers needed quickly to house families displaced because of a natural disaster in the Dakotas.

The Yeargans had eight weeks to complete the $1.9 million renovation contract at the Selfield Industrial Park in Dallas County. They finished it with time to spare by bringing in 36 local workers to augment others already on the payroll. A catering company also was hired to provide meals for the workers.

"We even rented a bus from a local school to get them to the site," Angie said. "In the end, everybody profited, including the school that provided the bus."

They also found time to save the popular Battle of Selma reenactment after it fell on hard times a few years ago and its future was in doubt.

A civic club was unable to continue as chief sponsor and volunteers were hard to find until Chuck pitched in and personally took the project under his wing.

He kept the re-enactment going until he had to step away and get back to his family’s construction business. By that time, he had the event back in business and it continues to be one of the most popular programs of its kind in the South.

After years of hard work, the Yeargans have been able to step back and admire their accomplishments, but they didn’t do it very long.

Son Brad has been named to run the operation while they concentrate on Yeargan Farms, especially their Pumpkin Patch project.

"Chuck was overwhelmed by all the travel that was required and we decided to take a break," said Angie. "That’s when we really began to focus our attention on the farm."

She loves sitting at a picnic table near a pond on their property or just relaxing and admiring the scenery. It wasn’t always like that. When the couple decided to turn part of their farm into a pumpkin patch, Angie had doubts that it could succeed because of the hard work that would be required.

It had been a hot, dry period and she hoped for rain as she looked over her budding pumpkin crop that needed moisture. She began to pray, asking for divine guidance to let her know if she and Chuck were doing the right thing.

Then, as if providential, a sign appeared from far above. It began to rain and, when it ended, Angie detected not one, but two colorful rainbows. That’s all she needed to know that their latest venture would be worth the effort.

"When Chuck and Angie become involved in a project they do it first class and that’s just what the Pumpkin Patch is," Wood said.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.