In a season where everything pumpkin is awesome, a trip to the Pumpkin Patch Festival at the Nelson Farm is an explosion of pumpkin —and outdoor agricultural — sensory experiences for children and adults.
This is the 30th year that Mr. Farmer Nelson (also known as Don Nelson) and Mrs. Farmer Nelson (aka Sonja Nelson) have hosted the festival at their farm, which sits in a grove of mature oak and walnut trees along Youngstrom Lake southwest of Litchfield.
The month-long festival is held weekends through Oct. 27, as well as Thursday and Friday during the long school convention weekend, Oct. 17-18.
Like any good pumpkin festival, there is a large patch of pumpkins ready to be picked and purchased by festival-goers who can get to the field by walking or riding in the tractor-pulled wagon.
The excessive rain this year means there may be mud in the pumpkin patch, so visitors should wear shoes they don’t mind getting dirty. There are, however, a couple wagons full of pre-picked pumpkins for sale also.
“I love to see people getting dirty,” said Don Nelson, whose face seems to be creased in a perpetual grin — much like his wife’s.
“When you come out here, don’t expect to stay clean because we have tunnels and we have slides and we have swings and we have wagon rides out to the — sometimes — muddy pumpkin patch,” he said. “I love to see the smiles on the kids. It’s fun doing it. It energizes me.”
There are more than real live orange pumpkins growing on the vine at the Pumpkin Festival.
There is also a pumpkin tower — an old corn crib painted to look like a pumpkin with a staircase through the middle that provides a view of the mega corn maze — the pumpkin 500 trike race for kids and a massive wooden trebuchet lovingly named the “Pumpkin Chucker Flinger Thinger” that uses counterweights to fling a 16-pound pumpkin through the air, over the oak trees and into Youngstrom Lake.
The 2:30 p.m. flinging and chucking of the pumpkin is a festival must-see, as is swinging from a rope in the hay mow of the 1900s-era barn, which is an event that’s open to children up to eighth grade; that takes place 12:30 to 1 p.m. and 4 to 4:30 p.m.
While pumpkins are the star of the show at the Nelson Farm, the couple — who were both raised on Minnesota farms and raised their own family on their farm — are strong advocates for agriculture and use every inch of the farm site to promote ag.
There are a variety of animals to see and pet, including a miniature pony, goats, baby calf, pigs, guinea hens, turkeys, chickens and ducks.
“We’re promoting agriculture because of our background,” said Don Nelson. “You like to eat? Yes? So thank a farmer for producing all your food.”
Some of playground pieces are made from old farm equipment that’s no longer used for field work but have been repurposed for fun.
Throughout the farm one can find a variety of outdoor games, like a human-sized tic-tac-toe board, ag olympics, farm mini golf, soap box derby and combine rides. There are signs posted with agriculture fun facts, and buildings, like an active chicken house and a sod house, to tour.
“The world is so full of sad things, we just love to have people be able to come to a safe place to enjoy themselves and to have old-fashioned fun,” said Sonja Nelson.
Besides the weekend Pumpkin Patch Festival, the Nelsons have hosted school field trips in the spring and fall at the farm for 34 years. After the Nelsons started giving pumpkins to the students who came for the fall tours, neighbors asked if they could also come there for pumpkins.
After that, neighbors started asking if they could pet the Nelson’s goats and then hinted that it would be nice if there was food at the farm for them to eat.
All that led the evolution of the annual Pumpkin Patch Festival.
The Nelsons said they intend to keep doing the festival as long as they’re healthy.
If you go
23618 Meeker County Road 1, Litchfield
From Litchfield, go west on Fifth Street to the “T” and turn left onto County Road 1 and go 3½ miles on blacktop road
Saturdays 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. (also Oct. 17-18)
Sundays noon - 5 p.m.
$10 per person
2 & under are free
Group rates of 20 or more people are $9, reservations are required.
Food and beverages are available for purchase
For more info check out the website at nelsonfarm.com