The McKennas have been growing produce and operating a pumpkin patch since 2006
McKenna Family Farms provides Branson, Mo., area familys fresh produce, education and entertainment.
Three generations live and work on the 18-acre farm, including owner E.J. McKenna, his wife Vicki; their kids, Maddie and James, and E.J.’s parents, Ed and Jean McKenna.
The farm is perhaps best known in the Taney County community for its pumpkin patch and other outdoor attractions familes and schools enjoy visiting. The McKennas also have a produce operation, selling both at the farm and at farmers markets from May through November.
“We’re growing produce for residents of the community,” E.J. explained. “And then in the fall those same people get to come out and play on the farm.”
“We have the 4 acres for produce, the 4 acres for the corn, and then we have another 10 acres in woods that is hilly and rocky and unusable for farming,” E.J. said. “So we have made a path through there for our hay ride to go through.”
When it comes to produce, the McKennas are very intentional about planting in the ground.
“We have two high tunnels outside, but we grow the produce in the ground, so it tastes like real produce,” E.J. explained
They start growing operations early. “We start seeds for tomatoes and cucumbers in December in one of our greenhouses or inside under light, depending what kind of seed it is,” E.J. said.
“We transfer to the first high-tunnel in January,” he continued. “It has a heater in case it gets really cold at night. The second high tunnel we transfer to later, the first of April. It provides no heat.”
They start planting other produce outside in April, after the last frost, and the pumpkins are planted last. “We start growing pumpkins in mid-May or first of June, and then harvest in September and October for the pumpkin patch,” E.J. explained.
All three generations pitch in on the farm. “It’s a family operation. Two of the kids are in college, and they help when they can. This year they can help a lot because they’re home,” he said with a laugh.
“Vicki helps us out in the farmers market during the summer,” E.J. explained. “She’s a school secretary the rest of the year, she has the real job.”
McKenna family farms has been operating in Branson for more than a decade. “This will be our 14th year for pumpkin patch,” E.J. said. “We’ve had the farm since 1990. We started building houses on here in 1991.
“At the time, we had gift shops in Branson, and we wanted to phase out of that.” The McKennas then started the pumpkin patch, and after two successful years they added produce, replacing the three or four cattle and the hogs they had.
The McKennas use the farm to educate school children who visit on field trips. “The kids who come out to the pumpkin patch have never been close to an animal sometimes,” E.J. explained. “A chicken, a pig, a cow, whatever. They’ve never been in a garden. And a lot of them live in apartments or condos or a neighborhood. So they’re experiencing something they don’t normally do.”
The McKennas also have a wedding chapel on their land that’s used throughout the year, except in their busiest month, October. “The wedding chapel is great for us because it produces income in the months where the vegetables are not.”
In addition, the farm also features a variety of outdoor activities, including slides, a bounce pillow, human-sized gerbil wheels, a corn maze, a bale maze and a hay ride through their woods.
The McKennas use a variety of marketing methods, though the majority of customers come through the farm’s online presence. “Early on, that was all word of mouth, now it is more Facebook posts.” In addition to their website, E.J. also advertises in the local newspapers and brings fliers to the locals schools.
“Production wise, we are adding a new high-tunnel,” E.J. reported. “So next year we will have more tomatoes covered.” They are applying for a grant, although they plan to build the high-tunnel whether they get the grant or not.
“We are not certified organic because it’s a long process,” E.J. said. “We don’t want to hassle with that. But everything we use is organic-inclined. It’s natural, we don’t use any pesticides on the vegetable crops.
“We’re eating our produce along with the customers, so we’re not going to let you, the customer, eat something that we wouldn’t want to eat.”
E.J. and his family see the whole local community as part of their family. “We feel like we’re feeding a really big family,” he remarked. “So we want to take care of everybody.”