Through the use of agritourism the McGarrah Farms Pumpkin Patch welcomes many guests to their farm each fall Agritourism is a growing industry in Arkansas supported by a detailed website for 345 locations throughout the state that includes livestock, wineries, horse camps, crops and farmers markets. With Halloween just around the corner, pumpkin patches and mazes are in full swing. McGarrah Farms Pumpkin Patch in Pea Ridge, Ark., contains both a pumpkin patch and a maze.
The 30-acre site opens in late September and runs through Halloween although occasionally a bit beyond depending upon weather. Owner Dennis McGarrah said, “I am like Santa Claus in October because no one else has as happy a face as I do. I just love the kids and the happiness this brings.”
The pumpkin side of the tourist site allows people to go into the pumpkin field, select the pumpkins they want, and then use clippers supplied by the staff to harvest the pumpkins themselves. Kids run from one to another looking for the perfect Halloween pumpkin weighing from 4 to 150 pounds while adults scour the fields for pie pumpkins with 20 varieties available. Dennis said, “My favorite variety for pie is actually an Australian squash called Jardel that tastes more pumpkin to me than actual pie pumpkins. While we don’t make and sell pies to the public, we do make pies for our church and family.”
Other fun activities are available at the pumpkin patch. The maze is made of sorghum rather than corn, which Dennis finds more practical because it stays green longer and is more drought resistant than corn. Also available are hay rides and a mule train ride which is composed of linked barrels with mule heads and pulled by a tractor. Children delight in the four miniature donkeys and a mule, about the size of a Great Dane, a playground featuring a wooden train, tractor and hay wagon for the children to climb and play on.
This year marks the 19th season for the McGarrah Farms Pumpkin Patch. Years ago Dennis and a friend ran the patch for the first season, but the friend “didn’t like it much,” so Dennis continued on his own with the patch and a truck farm on the side. Then, after the building boom, Dennis lost a manufacturing job which he had held for 32 years. He then decided to turn a hobby into a vocation. Dennis smiled and said, “This is really a good story because I’ve never been happier in my life. I don’t work for the man, and when you love what you do, it’s not a job.”
Farming is nothing new to Dennis. His family has been farming in Benton County since 1824, before Arkansas became a state. During the Indian Territory days, the Army came and burnt the family’s crops to force them to leave the land, but the ploy didn’t work. In fact, the family still retains the original 28-acre homestead in Lowell, Ark., now the location of the truck farming side of their business. Dennis started farming at age 11 with his grandparents who ran a subsistence type farm, typical of that the era. Now his own grandchildren are following in his footsteps.
The McGarrahs raise berries, melons, sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers, which they sell at the Rogers, Bentonville and Fayetteville Farmers Markets and to several restaurants. One interesting method used on the McGarrah Farms is 20 beehives owned by a neighbor who harvests the honey but used by Dennis for pollination. In this way, the beehives serve a dual purpose and benefit both. Dennis also uses plasticulture which is a plastic sheet covering a row with small holes for each seed and a water line for each row. This method, now widely used in the United States but developed in Israel where water supply was severely limited, provides weed control as well as water retention. Additional weed control is necessary and includes both liquid and granular pre-emergence application and liquid post emergence application. One post emergence liquid only kills grass and is safe for plants but another liquid has to be carefully applied with a hand sprayer to avoid damaging crops. Fertilizer is granular and used throughout the growing season as needed.
“I never dreamed when I took Dawn to see a movie over 22 years ago that we would marry, raise a family, and build a farming life on land that’s been in my family almost 100 years.” Dawn is the office manager for Ozark Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Rogers, Ark.


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