U-Pick Pumpkin Patches Learn to Adapt

By Matt Wastradowski

As families make plans to visit pumpkin patches and sip cider this fall, farmers all over the Willamette Valley are taking precautions to keep visitors safe while celebrating the region’s annual harvest.

For example: The E.Z. Orchards Farm Market HarvestFest has been a Willamette Valley institution for more than two decades. But when COVID-19 arrived in the region earlier this year, John Zielinski, co-owner and manager at the market, wasn’t sure whether it would return. At a certain point in the summer, with the clock ticking a possible opening date, Zielinski had to either cancel the event outright or plan for a radically different event—so he started buying straw and ordering supplies. “I made the gamble,” he said.

The gamble paid off: The E.Z. Orchards Farm Market HarvestFest returned earlier this fall, albeit with a different look and feel than in years past.

Families can still view baby goats and sheep at the petting zoo, for instance, but can’t pet the animals and are separated from the pen by a three-foot barrier. Other precautions include limiting the number of visitors in the E.Z. Orchards Farm Market at any given time, widening the path of E.Z. Orchards’ corn maze, carrying fewer visitors on each of the farm’s famous hayrides, and eliminating several classic attractions (like live music and rubber duck races) to promote social distancing and cut down on the points of contact 

Even with the changes, Zielinski hopes HarvestFest helps visitors let loose and have a little fun this fall. “More than anything right now, I hope we’re able to provide a time where they can get out and, other than masking and social distancing, maybe experience some normalcy—to have a chance to experience some normalcy in a regular fall activity,” he says.

Normalcy has been in short supply this year, but farmers all over the region are working hard and taking all possible precautions to create safe, yet fun experiences for celebrating the region’s annual harvest. 

Here’s a rundown of farms and markets putting on healthy events this fall:

Bauman’s Farm and Garden, led by a family that’s been farming in the Willamette Valley for 125 years, created a video for social media that details what’s new and different in 2020. The video covers how its pumpkin patch, store, food stands, and corn maze will feel different this season.

Lee Farm, which has farmed in the Tualatin Valley since 1869, did something similar with a social media video of its own. In the video, organizers explain how its Fall Harvest event will look different in 2020—like asking visitors to pre-purchase timed tickets to manage capacity and cut down on common touch points. The farm is also offering curbside pick-up on some of its most popular food items, such as doughnuts, pie, and fresh-pressed cider.

The Wilsonville-area Frog Pond Farm is overhauling its annual event. The farm’s pumpkin patch is now a drive-thru affair; families are asked to drive through the pumpkin patch, pick their desired pumpkin, and return to their car in a “safari-style” experience, as the farm calls it. Frog Pond is also hosting an outdoor, walk-through “Haunted Forest”.

This fall, Triskelee Farm is holding its annual Fall Fest farm tours by appointment only. Public tours will be offered Oct. 24-25 and Oct. 31; private tours are also available for families and smaller groups, as well. Other activities include hayrides, finger painting, pumpkin bowling, and horse rides—all outside, where it’s easy to keep your distance from other visitors. Learn more about attending the event and reserving your spot.

Canby’s TMK Creamery is celebrating the season in late October with a pumpkin pick-up party and fried cheese curds on Oct. 22, as well as a pumpkin painting party and trick-or-treating for kids on Oct. 31. The event will be held in TMK’s barn, which makes it easy for visitors to keep their distance from others.

The Clackamas County Fairgrounds is hosting a “Scare Fair” this year—with drive-through experiences designed to replicate the haunted house experience from your vehicle.

Since 1987, the trees at True North Orchards have produced some of the region’s finest fruit. This fall, visitors can pick their own comice pears and apples (three varieties are available), and shop for honey, fresh eggs, and apple cider in the farm stand. This fall, masks are required, and fruit pickers should bring their own buckets. (The orchard’s buckets are sanitized between visitors.)

This fall, Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm is celebrating the season in its own way: by offering bulbs, wine grapes, estate wines, and other items for sale in its gift shop. (Fall is the right time to start planting tulips, after all!) Visitors can also enjoy a wine tasting at the farm, as well. 

As part of its efforts to maintain social distancing and limit crowds, Tollen Farm is open by appointment only this season. Visitors who make the appointment will be rewarded with the chance to enjoy a fruit and nut orchard, 11 miniature donkeys, four Arabian mares, and more. (The farm is even opening up on Thursday mornings for children and parents with autism.)