Author’s Note: This article “The October Pumpkin Patch at Ardenwood ” is a stand-alone article on my website. Further parallel articles are often chapters in my two main travel books on California. They are Northern California History Travel Adventures: 35 Suggested Trips and Northern California Travel: The Best Options. All my books on California can be see on my Amazon Author Page. A parallel Pumpkin Patch occurs each autumn in Half Moon Bay along the San Mateo Coast.
By Lee Foster
When it’s autumn in America, during September and October, Pumpkin Patches spring to life in many communities. Children dream of selecting and carving their pumpkin every fall. 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. This celebration, leading up to Halloween, occurs each day in October at Ardenwood.
My Past Visits
For several years, while my grandsons were young, I contemplated returning to the Pumpkin Patch in October. Our entourage comprised me, my son Paul, and his sons Paultje and Charlie. Together, we went to gather up the family pumpkins.
The kids loved 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 our pilgrimages, we were fortunate, as were many other urban folks across the generations in the 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 carried 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 part of a historic park. Both its energy at food production and public outreach peak in October.
The Pumpkin Patch
In October the fabled Pumpkin Patch is in full swing. Families have long traditions of coming here to choose a pumpkin, ride around in the hay wagon, and 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. 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 guide explains how and why they went organic long, long ago, before the term “organic” became commercial. There are probably comments about the rich taste of tomatoes that are fully ripened on the vine when the producer and consumer live in close proximity. The issue of sustainability comes up. The talk emphasizes the joy of watching plants grow and proceed through their brief, dramatic life cycles.
Maybe the guide parades out all the 70 crops grown here, from chard to cauliflower. The farm is a showplace, 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 Perry family members 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 and its Pumpkin Patch, but that’s one aspect 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.
Personal note: I was an urban farmer myself, in the 1980s, raising all the vegetables for my family of five on a small urban hillside lot in the sunny Rockridge area of Oakland. I was writing for Rodale’s Organic Gardening. Chronicle Books published my book on organic urban farming. My book continues to persists in a few legacies copies on Amazon as Backyard Farming
If You Go:
Perry Farms/Ardenwood Historic Farm Park is at 34600 Ardenwood Boulevard in Fremont, CA, 510-791-0340. Call for Pumpkin Patch details. Admission fee is $1 on weekends. Produce prices vary. 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