By Lee Foster
In only a few places in the U.S. can you find a large dedicated farming space right within a sprawling urban area, such as Ardenwood Park, featuring the historic Perry Farms, in Fremont, California. The October Pumpkin Patch celebration leading up to Halloween is an ideal time for a visit.
Each year I contemplate returning in October, with my son Paul and his sons Paultje and Charlie, to gather up the family pumpkins and 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’s tales of farming in this urban environment. Joe has now retired, but the next generation carries the vision forward.
Though Ardenwood functions all year as a demonstration farm for urban education, and basks in its relationship with the East Bay Parks system as an historic park, its energy at food production and public outreach peaks in October.
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 and the choosing of a pumpkin.
The hay wagon takes city slickers out to a remote corner of the farm, away from the din of the pumpkin patch, to impart a heartfelt dream about the farm.
The hay wagon spokesperson explains how they went organic long, long ago, and why, before the term “organic” became commercial. There is talk 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. The spokesperson may parade 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, the people who have been living out this ideal of urban farming. 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 glimpse at yesteryear. The legacy of Joe Perry will be there, forever, taking us around in the hay wagon, telling the good story one more time, now through the voice of the next generation.
Perry Farms/Ardenwood Historic Farm Park is at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard in Fremont, CA, 510-791-0340, www.perryfarmsorganic.com. Here is the pumpkin patch link. Admission fee and produce purchase fees. More details on the entire Ardenwood historic park as an East Bay Regional Park District park are available at 510-544-2797, http://www.ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood