Picking the perfect pumpkin

Posted Oct. 20, 2006

Maria Villalpando

For years local families have enjoyed the Heritage Harvest Pumpkin Patch, where they choose pumpkins for Halloween. In addition to pumpkins, the annual event features a hay ride, which carries young guests across the entire park. The Pumpkin Patch is open from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Oct. 30 at Heritage Park in La Verne.

The crunch of gravel under each step puts miles between you and city life as the short walk from your car takes you deep into life in the country.

A big red barn stands tall above bales of hay lined with pumpkins as a tractor whizzes by with kids and parents excitedly talking and laughing.

This is so much more than your run-of-the-mill pumpkin patch.

The Harvest Pumpkin Patch is back at Heritage Park in La Verne and it opened last Saturday for its 17th year. The patch already has reservations for 4,089 children from local schools over the next 10 school days.

“We have the atmosphere that other patches don’t,” said Betty Umland, La Verne Heritage Foundation volunteer. “It’s fun just to watch the kids enjoying the farm atmosphere while they pick out their pumpkins.”

Of course the star of any patch is usually the pumpkins, but at the Heritage Park patch the most popular attraction seems to be the hay-ride through the orange orchard and around the entire park. Children line up to buy the $1 tickets as soon as they see the tractor roll by. Tickets are sold at the Country Store where they sell chips, candy and other treats for the entire family to enjoy.

The tractor can hold up to 12 people and as they ride through the orchard they can reach out and feel the leaves of the orange trees. The driver also stops along the way to tell them stories about the past and how farmers cared for the orchard and farm.

La Verne resident Nicole Hinojosa brought her family members because they had never been to this patch before.

“We saw (the pumpkin patch) in the information book that came to our house and we just had to come for the hay ride,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa’s 3-year-old daughter Jordan quickly picked her favorite pumpkin and began jumping up and down while waiting for her turn on the tractor.

Children can reach out and touch real farm animals too. There are baby chicks, bunnies, goats and a pig named Annabelle for the children to enjoy. Some children might even be able to talk their parents into buying them a chick; they are for sale for $3.50 each.

“The parents are so involved … helping pick pumpkins and riding on the hay ride,” Betty Umland said. “There are a lot of dads out too and that’s a great thing.”

Many local schools reserve time to bring their students to the park during the week from 8:45 a.m. to noon, these hours are used only for field trips.

Children on field trips start their adventure at the park connected to the patch and work their way over to pick out their $2 pumpkin from the “Kid’s Patch.”

They experience the entire ranch with a guided tour where they learn about everything from the barn to the farm animals.

“Some of these kids have been coming here since they were small,” Betty Umland said. “Now they can almost do the tour for me.”

 After the tour, the kids can do crafts and end their day in the country by eating lunch under the trees.

“The feedback we get is the best,” volunteer and tractor driver Willard Umland said. “People come and see how wonderful this place is…and that’s really the wages we get.”

The patch is open to the public from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends through October 30.

Pumpkins range in price from $2.75 to $32 depending on size.

As you leave the patch, the crunch of gravel turns back into paved sidewalk as quickly as it came and your heavy pumpkins are a reminder of the wonderful day you had in the country.

For more information about the pumpkin patch visit www.laverneheritage.org.

Angie Gangi can be reached at agangi@ulv.edu.

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