From apple cider to Jack-O’-lanterns, there are many ways to celebrate the autumn harvest at home. But the real party is down on the farm. Traditionally, in September and October, farmers open their fields, farm stands, corn mazes and pumpkin patches to the public to celebrate the harvest. It’s a great time to buy farm-fresh goodies, meet farmers, explore farms, pet alpacas, take hayrides and enjoy special events and activities. The pumpkin, that grinning autumn guest, is the invitation.
“It’s the height of the season. It’s so fun,” said Sarah Cassidy, education director at the Oxbow Farm and Education Center in Carnation. “It’s a great time to have people out here on the farm. Everything is so beautiful.
“It’s a very festive time,” Cassidy said. “Pumpkins give people an excuse to come to the farms. They come to the farms with pumpkins in mind and discover everything else the farms do.”
King County has a lot to celebrate. The county produces about $127 million in agriculture products each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census — 13th in Washington in terms of value in production, close behind Skagit and Whatcom counties in Western Washington. The county ranked 16th in 1997, so its value has been increasing.
“We are a lot like California, where we have lots and lots and lots of different varieties,” said Steve Evans, a farm specialist at the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “We probably raise about 300 different items. We have fruits, nuts and berries. We grow vegetable varieties — about 150-plus items there. We produce dairy items. We produce animals. This is not even a complete list.”
The advantage of diversity is resilience. In a year like this, when the weather is cold and wet, some things might not grow well, like tomatoes, but cold-weather plants like lettuces and specialty greens do well. Evans said: “It’s like an investment portfolio. Your adviser tells you to diversify. You spread it out … and you still break even.”
Over time, farms evolve to meet changing trends and tastes. Remlinger Farms, a third-generation family-owned and -operated, 281-acre farm, has successfully changed. Founded 64 years ago, the farm originally excelled in fruit and vegetable growing and packing. The second generation specialized in strawberry growing and u-picking. Today, the third generation concentrates on growing strawberries and pumpkins while hosting education tours and a farm-themed, 26-ride amusement park for tens of thousands of families every year. Today, it takes two solid weeks to decorate and prep the park for the five-week Fall Harvest Celebration.
“It’s our signature event and what supports the farm for the rest of the year,” said Will Hart, a third-generation farmer at Remlinger Farms. “Our population goes up 15-fold at least. People line up. It’s all geared for the 10-year-old and under crowd.”
And there are the pumpkins themselves — about 25 acres. You can buy pumpkins by the pound or pick them yourself. Every child who goes on a kids’ tour gets a sugar pumpkin at Remlinger Farms.
For metropolitan residents, it’s a rare treat to experience a real, working agriculture community just a short drive from home, said Chris Benedict, an agriculture extension educator with Washington State University Extension. Farmers and advocates work together to keep King County’s agriculture area strong. Here, there are 1,790 farms and 49,280 acres in production. Per farm, the average size is 28 acres.
“It is cultural diversity,” Benedict said. “It’s important that we maintain that for the future. It gives us a sense of where we come from and where we are going to go.”
Every farm has a personality and philosophy of its own. At Oxbow Farm and Education Center, the theme of living stewardship in harmony with the wildlife around us is inspired by the farm’s Oxbow Lake. Oxbow Lake is a winter riverbend that becomes “pinched off” in the summer and becomes a lake. It is home to Coho, Chinook and steelhead salmon.
The 120-acre Oxbow Farm property is home to a 25-acre, 13-year-old organic farm and the Oxbow Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Environment. The center specializes in “Beet Generation” Farm Adventures, farm tours and activities for children, where kids ages 3 to 7 learn about food, farming and plants. At the Living Playground, kids can crawl through vine-covered tunnels, explore the worm box, climb the jungle gym tractor, enter the kiwi dome or run the sorghum spiral.
“It’s the farm in your backyard,” Cassidy said. “… It’s a perfect way for schoolchildren to enjoy the pumpkin season and learn about organic farming and how, by organic farming, we preserve salmon habitat and all the wonderful things going on here.”
Fun, facts or food, you can usually find what you’re looking for if you’ve done a little homework. Every farm is unique. At Dr. Maze’s farm in Redmond, some people head straight to the 6-acre corn maze, which Roger “Dr. Maze” Calhoon has been designing, planting, weeding and cutting for three months. The two miles of twisted paths create a farm-themed maze visible to low-flying aircraft. To learn more about farming or just to relax, take the hayride around the Dr. Maze farm. They stay to pick pumpkins, meet pygmy goats and alpacas, see botanicals, buy tea and soap and experience the farm. On Flashlight Nights, scamper through the corn mazes and pumpkin patches with flashlights. It’s all an outdoor adventure.
“It’s an inexpensive way to get out and be with your family and show your kids a little bit about where their foods come from,” Dr. Maze said. “It’s a great time to share their own histories and stories about their own connections to the land. It’s a fun time. Or it can be more of a learning experience. And we’ve got room for both.”
Harvest Celebration Tour
Harvest Celebration Tour is an annual event hosted by WSU Extension. The tour is a good way to find more information, tour farms, meet farmers, shop and show support. For upcoming events, watch king.wsu.edu/foodandfarms
2011 Puget Sound Farm Guide A complete guide to corn mazes, day trips, eating local, farms, farm stands, farm tours, pumpkin patches, u-picks and more pugetsoundfresh.org
When You Go
Come early in the season and early in the day for the best access and selection. Consider braving the weather, because rainy and overcast days often thin the crowds. Dress for the weather. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes for mud. Bring cash and tote bags for easy shopping. Bring gloves if you plan on picking. Double check Web sites, farm guides, information hotlines and weather reports before heading out, because details can change. Leave your pets at home and be prepared to walk.
FARMS, FARM STANDS, PUMPKIN PATCHES
Sources: 2011 Puget Sound Fresh Guide, 2010 Harvest Celebration Food Tour
Canter-Berry Farms 253.939.2706 or 800.548.8418, blueberries4u.com
Mosby’s Farmstand Farmstand: 253.209.9822, Farm: 253.939.7666, mosbyfarm.com
Trees ‘n Bees Inc. 253.939.1149, treesnbees.com
Bill Pace Fruit & Produce 425-467-0501, billpacefruitandproduce.com
Camp Korey 425.844.3292, campkorey.org
Carnation Tree Farm/Hjertoos Farm carnationtreefarm.com
Changing Season Farm 425.591.0369, changingseasonsfarm.org
Dog Mountain Farm dogmtnfarm.com
Full Circle Farm 866.EAT.WELL, fullcirclefarm.com
Growing Things Farm 425.691.8669, growingthingsfarm.org
Harvold Farm 425.333.4185, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jubilee Farm jubileefarm.org
Oxbow 425.788.1134, oxbow.org
Remlinger Farms 425.333.4135, remlingerfarms.com
Two Brothers Pumpkin Patch at Game Haven Farm 425.333.4313
Cottage Gardens Blueberry Farm 425.947.4523, email@example.com
Local Roots Farm localrootsfarm.com
Forest Creek Farm 360.825.5157, forestcreekfarm.com
Rockridge Orchards & Cidery Country Market & Wine Tasting Store: 360-802-6800, Farm: 360.825.1962, rockridgeorchards.com
Tracy’s Roadside Produce 360.825.1250
Alpacas at Legacy Ranch 425.222.3533, legacyranchalpacas.com
Baxter Barn baxterbarn.org
Fall City Farms fallcityfarms.com
Carpinito Brothers Farm, 253.854.5692, carpinito.com
Bybee Farms Recording: 425.888.0821, Office: 425-888-5745, bybee-farms.com
Dahlia Barn, 425.888.2155, dahliabarn.com
Dr. Maze’s Farm 425.869.9777, drmazesfarm.com
Serres Farm 425.868.3017, serresfarm.com
The Root Connection CSA 425.881.1006, rootconnection.com
Snoqualmie Cattle Company 206.793.6364, snoqualmiecattleco.com
21 Acres 206-442-2061, 21acres.org
BarnPlace aka Red Barns Farm 425.213.9427, barnplace.com
Engustment Farm 425.788.6369
MEET DR. MAZE
If you could fly like a crow over Dr. Maze’s Farm in Redmond in September and October, you’d see a 6-acre field of organic corn cut into a farm-themed mural best viewed by low-flying aircraft. Look carefully and see the lines create people-size paths for a giant corn maze. Tens of thousands of people flock to these fields and challenge the twisted paths of Dr. Maze’s annual, one-of-a-kind, living artwork. The Harvest Maze and pumpkin patch is the centerpiece of a maze playground designed, built and maintained by Roger “Dr. Maze” Calhoon. Let’s meet Dr. Maze.
How did you get your name, Dr. Maze?
I have a Ph.D. in biophysics. (Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physical science to study biological systems.) Someone came up with “Dr. Maze” about five years back. When we wanted to come up with the name for a farm, it just seemed like a natural one.
What was your previous job? I was working in a lab in biotech. We moved to Seattle. Companies came and went and I was changing jobs every two or three years (across the country). We ended up living here and decided we wanted to stay put. That meant giving up the science career and we backed into a farming career. … It turned into something much bigger than I anticipated. This will be my 12th year as a farmer.
How many acres is the Dr. Maze space? The corn maze is about six acres. It’s coming up really nicely this year.
Who designs the mazes? I design a new one every year. Once I have the concept, I work it and rework it and rework it on paper and on computer until it works as a maze you can work with. Then I turn the entire field into a sheet of graph paper using flags. I usually end up with two-plus miles of path. The correct path is about one mile, but there are a lot of wrong turns.
Who shapes the maze? I cut the maze myself. I really want the lines to go where they want to go. I used to agonize over every corn plant. Now I can go out there and just go to it.
What tools do you use? Paper, pen, flags, hoe and mower.
Is it a special kind of corn? It’s organic field corn — the kind you feed cattle — because it has big, strong stocks. I buy it from a place from Minnesota that sells organic feed corn. In good years, and I think this will be a good year, it will be 10 to 12 feet tall.
How long does it take to make? June is getting it planted. July is keeping it weeded. August is getting it cut.
How can people solve the mazes? We do provide a map. We also put questions into the maze. If you answer the question correctly, the sign will point you in the right direction. There is only one way through, so if you’re systematic, you will eventually make your way through. There is a lot of chatter; sometimes people help each other. There are hay bales to sit down and enjoy the day.
As a farmer, what does it mean to see the public at harvest? It’s a big part of what we get out of it. It’s not easy to invite a bunch of people into your house. We gravitate towards the kids because they seem to appreciate it a lot. It’s the only job I’ve had where kids can come up and give me hugs. Farming was not on my plan and this was not on my plan. It’s amazing how satisfying it is. Any kind of farming is difficult. It is one of the ways that you can bring in and involve a lot of people and hopefully be successful and hopefully keep the land in farming.