Walters' Pumpkin Patch
Recipient of 2005 USDA Value Added Producer grant.
When you come out to Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, be ready to spend an entire fun-filled day out there. As the 20,000 people who come through each fall can attest, the pumpkin patch is full of things for all ages.
The pumpkin patch is not a place where you come and pick out a pumpkin for one month out of the year. Rather it is a place where you can roam around the gift shop and pick out your favorite gourd birdhouse or a unique gift for a special occasion. It is the place where the kids can play at Mount Boo’s Underground Slide or see how wet they can get walking the rocks on Walnut Creek or a place where the family can sit back and enjoy a hayride or explore the corn maze together. With all of that and more there is plenty offered at the pumpkin patch. Uniqueness is something that is standard at Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, and the food, gift shop and activities are all evidence of that.
Walters’ Pumpkin Patch started out as farming and ranching business for Carroll and Becky Walters. Becky had worked in a green house in El Dorado, and her boss had offered her some pumpkin seeds. Becky noted that although she wasn’t very good with livestock, she was quite successful at growing miniature pumpkins. Flash forward to 1997 when the pumpkins were growing, a gift shop was added and a business was starting to develop. In 1998, the Walters decided to try to grow pumpkins as a business, and Walters’ Pumpkin Patch began to take shape. Becky said, in her own words, “I knew there was more to do with pumpkins then selling them one at a time.” As time and patience would show, she turned out to be right.
The distinctiveness of Walters’ Pumpkin Patch started with the food. Becky started out by creating Pumpkin Salsa, Pumpkin Chili, Pumpkin Butter and has now added Cream of Pumpkin Soup. She points out that pumpkin is a low acid food and recommended for some people in lieu of tomatoes.
But the Walters didn’t stop at the food. Outside they began to add to their pumpkin patch. They started in 1998 with school tours. In addition to growing pumpkins, they added on hay rides, a corn maze, an underground slide on “Mount Boo,” paddle boats, a “trick or treat track,” a swinging bridge, “punkin chunkin” (a huge slingshot with “pumpkin ammunition,”) a train ride through the patch, bag swings and much more! In ten years the pumpkin patch has grown from selling pumpkins and having a gift shop to a place that welcomes the entire family and is a full day of entertainment.
Any good business has its challenges and the Walter’s Pumpkin Patch is certainly no different. One of the challenges was that of insurance. When they first started, they had more than one policy and Becky said they were beginning to grow tired of having so many. Liability insurance was another part to add to the mix and though they were hesitant, Becky said they had to “get over it and get it (liability insurance.)” They now have a policy plan in place where both the house and the farm are insured and the policy issues have decreased.
Another challenge the Walters faced was whether to start charging admission. When they first started, they didn’t charge admission and have only done so in the past five years. The admission is certainly something the Walter’s agonized over but as they reflect back now, things have fallen into place. Becky says that although they were somewhat scared about admissions, “we knew intuitively that’s what we needed to do and we felt that things have gone well since.”
The biggest success that one could see is that more than 20,000 people come through the pumpkin patch each year. The pumpkin patch has so much to offer that it’s hard to imagine being able to do everything in just one day. The Walters’ creativity and the ability to come up with new ideas and things to do, give the consumers a reason to come back year after year. It’s clear that they might soar past that 20,000 number before long.
With food being a major part of the pumpkin patch, the Walters’ were looking at bringing in some extra help. They were able to hire a retired teacher who helped with the food offerings and cooking on the weekends. By doing this, the Walters’ were able to add hot dogs, sausages, pumpkin chili, popcorn, pumpkin ice cream and more to their growing menu of food.
Along with the success of the food is the accomplishment of implementing activities. The Walters are able to offer activities that not only kids will enjoy, but parents, seniors and singles. In business it is important to always innovate and change. Walters’ willingness to add new things helps their business maintain the freshness and innovations necessary to remain in business in the long haul.
The Walters are full of plans for the future for their ever-growing pumpkin patch. One of the ideas they are putting into place is adding on to the pumpkin pantry building so they can do weddings and corporate events. This would bring more people to the patch and more people would be able to enjoy it.
They are also looking at adding a petting zoo. Becky says they have always catered to the wild life side of the pumpkin patch and if they added a barn for the animals they would be able to create an ideal atmosphere for a petting zoo.
The Walters are willing to try any new product, including the industry’s latest – a jumping pillow. As Becky puts it, “Yes, we want one!”
The Walters received their VAPG funding in 2005 and have used it toward a number of things. Some of the money was used for the shipment of jars that a candle company who wholesales candles sends to them. The company takes the jars and put candles into them and then ships them back the Walters. They have also used the funding to pay for salaries and the remainder was used to shore up accounting system at Walter’s Pumpkin Patch.
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)