A true family affair at the Schaefers and Collins Pumpkin Farm each fall

For the last generation, thousands of kids and their parents have flocked every fall to the Schaefers and Collins Pumpkin Farm near Mayflower, Ark. In addition to experiencing the thrill of riding the hay wagon to the pumpkin patch, where they can pick out their own gourds to be carved into Jack-O-Lanterns, they can play games, challenge the corn maze, and buy farm-fresh treats. And the families that put on the annual festival always make sure there’s something new for their annual visitors.
Lisa Schaefers and her husband Darryl were already growing vegetables and direct selling them to consumers when, 18 years ago, they got the idea for the pumpkin patch.
“When we first started trying to do the pumpkins, it was just a trial and error thing,” Lisa told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “The first year, I can remember we did 50 kids, and we thought we were really doing something. Now, we’re at 6,000-plus a year on the school kids alone.”
It’s truly a family affair. Darryl’s parents, Bob and Pat Schaeffers, have been farming the operation since 1974; Darryl works at Hendrix College, and on the farm along with his younger brother Chris. They grow row crops, and have some cattle. While Darryl, Lisa, and Lisa’s parents, Wendell and Shelby Collins, take care of the vegetable operation and the pumpkin patch, Chris, his wife Debbie, and their daughter Angela maintain another agri-attraction just up the road, a corn maze. This year, Chris and Debbie have also opened a refurbished machine shed for business as a wedding barn, and have already hosted a dozen nuptials.
Debbie told OFN that 2015 is the 11th year for the corn maze.
“You have to plan on what kind of design you want to make,” she explained. “Then you send it off to the guy who cuts it out, and we OK it.” They plant the corn late in the season, around the first of July, and the custom maze carver cuts out the maze in late August; it’s open until the end of October.
Debbie Schaefers said this year’s theme is patriotic, with a Liberty Bell, an American flag and an eagle interwoven within the patterns. They get anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 visitors in a season. Most are from nearby towns, she said, but some travel from Fayetteville, Ark. and they even get visitors from other countries, many of them exchange students that come here. And yes, their guests occasionally get lost. “Usually, you can find your way out,” she said. “Our first year, we had a couple that got lost. They were out there a while and didn’t want any help, and then finally we helped them out.”
Meanwhile, her sister-in-law was busy building new attractions for the pumpkin patch. Every few moments, Lisa talks about yet another activity. There’s a petting zoo, with young animals she procures herself; she either sells them to visitors during the festival, or markets them afterwards. There are a number of photo ops, like a giant chair in which people can pose, and a recreation of a Model A roadster, all built out of salvaged items like scrap wood and barrels. Next year, they plan an Amish buggy made out of cornstalks.
There are also pony rides, face painting, train rides, a fishing pond, and arts and crafts.
“We brainstorm, and sometimes our brainstorms get a little wild,” she explained. The main activity site relocated last year from where the wedding barn stands and includes a bigger playground area for children. And there’s plenty of food at the concession stand.
Lisa was a special education teacher in Mayflower, Ark., and when she had her first son, she decided to return to the farm. At the time it was strictly a vegetable operation; she said the produce is picked daily and includes spring crops. Business has been increasing, especially after the completion of the new Conway Municipal Airport in the nearby Lollie Bottoms.
“I cannot grow enough purple-hulled peas in the spring,” she said. “We sell a lot of those, and cranberry beans and sweet corn.”
The workload picks up as the fall festival nears.
“We put in from daylight to dark, way before we open up, from the end of May till the first part of November,” Lisa said. It involves “lots of decorating; you have to have your vines going good and green, lots of fruit for them to pick out in the fields.”
Buses full of schoolchildren will arrive from throughout central Arkansas; she said she keeps the price low, so the families and kids can get a good deal.
“They get a hay ride, a pumpkin of their choice, and play all day long for five bucks a head,” she said, and added their plans for the future are, “Just keep getting bigger and bigger; that’s what I want to do.”


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