By Lee Foster
When it’s autumn in America, during September and October, Pumpkin Patches are springing back to life, with many children dreaming of their pumpkin for this year. However, in only a few places in the U.S. can you find a large dedicated farming space right within a sprawling urban area. One example is Ardenwood Park, featuring the historic Perry Farms, in Fremont, California. Ardenwood offers one of the most robust Pumpkin Patches in the Bay Area. The October celebration leading up to Halloween, usually starting the last weekend in September, is an ideal time for a visit.
Our First Visit
Each year I contemplate returning in October, with my son Paul and his sons Paultje and Charlie. We will gather up the family pumpkins. The kids love to ride the hay wagon pulled by an authentic John Deere tractor, bought in the 1940s by the farmer, Joe Perry. In the first year of my pilgrimage, I was fortunate, as were many other urban folks across the generations in my hay wagon, to hear Joe Perry himself. Joe spun tales of farming in this urban environment. Joe passed away in 2018, but his son Doug and other family members in the next generation carry the vision forward.
Ardenwood functions all year as a demonstration farm for urban education. It also basks in its relationship with the East Bay Parks system as an historic park. Both its energy at food production and public outreach peak in October.
The Pumpkin Patch
Then the fabled pumpkin patch is in full swing. Families have long traditions of coming here to choose a pumpkin and ride around in the hay wagon to learn about farming. Some of the pumpkins are grown right on the property in large plots. Many other colorful types of squash-family produce are also available. Wheelbarrows and small wagons assist customers carting the chosen pumpkins and squashes to the family car.
Kids like the large pyramid of hay bales that is built every year. Every kid seems to have an urge to climb to the top of the pyramid and tumble down the sides. But the special feature of the place is the ride in the hay wagon ride and the choosing of a pumpkin.
The hay wagon takes city slickers out to a remote corner of the farm. Consequently, the audience is now away from the din of the Pumpkin Patch. Most noteworthy, a talk imparts a heartfelt dream about sustainable agriculture.
The Hay Wagon
The hay wagon spokesperson explains how they went organic long, long ago, and why, before the term “organic” became commercial. There are probably comments about the taste of tomatoes that can be fully ripened right on the vine when the producer and consumer live in close proximity. The issue of sustainability comes up. The joy of watching plants grow and proceed through their brief, dramatic life cycles is emphasized. Maybe the spokesperson parades out all the 70 crops grown here, from chard to cauliflower. The farm is a show place, of course, but here are elements of the real deal, the real McCoy. These people have been living out an ideal of urban farming. Certainly, the spokespeople are the hard-working high priests of the plowed field. Most of the audience has had no experience of food sourcing beyond a trip to the local supermarket.
Ardenwood is more than just the Joe Perry Farm, but that’s one part that is special. Many families return each October to get the family pumpkins and a glimpse at yesteryear. The legacy of Joe Perry will be there, forever, taking us around in spirit in the hay wagon. Above all, someone else will tell the good story one more time, now likely through the voice of the next generation.
If You Go:
Perry Farms/Ardenwood Historic Farm Park is at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard in Fremont, CA, 510-791-0340, www.perryfarmsorganic.com. Admission fee and produce purchase fees. More details on the entire Ardenwood Historic Farm as an East Bay Regional Park District park are available at 510-544-2797, http://www.ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood
Both websites tend to reflect the annual news of the Pumpkin Patch towards the end of September.