By Kayla Hawthorne, OCJ field reporter
Those not from farms often yearn for reasons to enjoy the autumn appeal of beautiful blue-sky days. This magnitude of this appeal caught the Lewis family somewhat by surprise after they decided to start selling a few pumpkins from their Meigs County front porch in 2011. To the family, it’s just their home, but to many people who stopped to buy pumpkins, they discovered it was something much more.
“People are desperate to be outside,” Rachel Lewis said. “We found it really odd.”
At first, Rachel and her husband Kevin sold a couple hundred pumpkins per year from Libby’s Pumpkin Patch south of Albany and they soon found customers wanted more than pumpkins.
“They started asking, “What else do you have?” They wanted hot chocolate, apple cider, to take pictures somewhere, to see the pumpkin patch, and to sit on a tractor,” Rachel said.
From there, the business has grown into a full-blown agritourism adventure. As the customer base started to grow, they extended the patch, and they needed help. Rachel’s brother and sister-in-law, Zack and Jamie Dye, live in the next house down the road and they jumped in to help Kevin and Rachel with the pumpkins. Zack planted three acres of corn to make a maze to add an attraction for customers.
“Back in the beginning, in 2011, it was Kevin and Rachel. And that’s how it was Libby’s. It was literally Libby’s pumpkin patch. They planted this pumpkin patch for their daughter,” Jamie said. “Then once it started to become something unexpected, we put in that corn maze and people started coming here for some reason. That’s when it really started to take off.”
Kevin felt like the first few years were fun, then it became more difficult with the higher demand. When that point came, Kevin and Rachel questioned if they could do it, or if they would have to quit. Jamie insisted they couldn’t quit.
With the two couples working together, the business continued to grow. The number of visitors to the patch doubled every year for the first five years.
Now they plant around three acres of pumpkins in many varieties and a three-acre corn maze. Kevin designs the maze and it includes several possibilities for maze-goers to make a wrong turn. Admission to the pumpkin patch also includes a hayride around the farm, tiny tractor track, giant slides, several props for photos, outdoor games, and homemade pumpkin ice cream. The family also allows local youth to come out and paint faces for a donation. This year the art club from a local high school will be face painting. One year, a girl raised enough money to pay for a trip she took for a youth function.
“She face painted the whole patch season and pretty much raised enough money to go on her Australian trip,” Zack said.
All four owners of Libby’s Pumpkin Patch work full time jobs, so the patch is only open to customers on the weekends.
“Busy weekends? There’ll be 2,000 people in a weekend,” Zack said.
Kevin added, “But if it’s a rainy weekend, you might get 50 people.”
Visitors to the pumpkin patch come from all around, including hours away. There are some families who come from as far as Texas. A big draw for the patch is students from nearby Ohio University.
“And that’s nice because they come and they do their team building exercises or whatever that they’re required to do,” Jamie said. “But then they go back to school and tell all their friends how great it was. And then the next day all their friends come.”
After the number of visitors to the pumpkin patch started to take off, they realized they needed to step up the business side of things.
“That’s when we started to feel like, ‘Alright, maybe we need to get insurance,’” Rachel said.
Thankfully, with the passage Ohio’s agritourism immunity law, the owners feel more protected if an accident were to occur. The immunity law shifts the liability from the agritourism providers to the participants. It protects the business from a civil action for an injury from an inherent risk, which is a danger or condition that is integral to the agritourism activity.
Along with the risk of liability, there are other challenges that the owners of the patch face. With the potential of 1,000 people walking around the property in one afternoon, dealing with the general public is one of the bigger challenges during operation. They find a lot of trash lying around that was dropped.
“You can’t get too upset about it, but it’s kind of like your home,” Rachel said.
With the challenges and business aspect of the patch now under control, they all agreed that it is getting easier.
“It’s starting to get fun again,” Zack said.
They credited their visitors for spreading the word about Libby’s to attract more customers. It is all word of mouth and social media. Even though they do not advertise like some businesses would, they still sell out of pumpkins every year.
“Then there was a couple years we closed two weeks early because we were completely out,” Kevin said.
It’s not easy for four people to grow thousands of pumpkins, which are planted throughout June, depending on the variety. The owners of Libby’s try to be as sustainable as they can with their growing and farming techniques. They do not use any herbicides, they use a hot pepper spray to keep the deer and other pests out, and they use a fungicide to reduce the mildew on the pumpkins. They also manage disease with variety selection and field rotation so pumpkins are not grown in the same spot two years in a row.
“The fungal diseases thrive in the wet, damp weather. For some reason, it’s actually been decent this year compared to what it has been in the past,” Kevin said.
It also takes good manure to grow pumpkins. Libby’s buys cow manure from a local dairy farmer to put on their fields.
The corn is planted in mid-July so it is still green in October for the maze. When the business is closed for the season, they pick the corn to feed to some of the animals on the farm, including Hamilton, the pet potbelly pig.
“He really is a big attraction. People see him on Instagram and Facebook and people come and are like, ‘Where is this Hamilton that we’ve seen?’” Jamie said.
Besides pumpkins, corn, and Hamilton, the families also have hay, blackberries, fruit trees, a miniature donkey, and chickens. Libby’s also has other local farmers custom growing pumpkins to supplement their crop.
Another big attraction on the farm is the barn that is in the center of the activities. During the pumpkin patch season, people use the barn to eat inside and sell local crafts and antiques. Throughout the rest of the year, they rent the space for weddings and
other events. In the center of the barn hangs a conversation-piece chandelier that was made by a local resident from parts and antiques from around the farm, including wagon wheels, steering wheels, and barbed wire.
“Our first wedding was the week that we finished building the barn,” Jamie said. “It’s evolved. Pretty much for every wedding, something new has evolved.”
What keeps Libby’s Pumpkin Patch going is not only the returning customers, but also the love this family has for each other and for farming. It is amazing what a few pumpkins can turn into when paired with everyone’s inherent love for autumn outdoors.
Follow Libby’s Pumpkin Patch on Facebook for updates and this season’s schedule and visit the farm at 41251 State Farm Road, Albany, Ohio.