Terror in the corn. Zombie paintball hunt. Chicken on a stick.
Corn mazes, barrel trains, petting goats and pedal cars.
And then, of course, there’s the pumpkin patch.
Fall Family Fun is happening right now at Anderson Farms in Erie, where 300 people are employed for the six-week fall festival season that ends right after Halloween. What started out as a pumpkin patch on a family farm has grown to a business that takes an entire year of planning — and planting — to pull off the short fall festival season.
From Pumpkin Patch to Festival Fun
“When we started,” says Brenda Anderson, part of the husband and wife team that own Anderson Farms, “we had a small pumpkin patch with one tractor and one wagon and we sold a few tickets. I think we had a cooler with some pop in it in case someone got thirsty.”
She looks around the grounds, where displays of pumpkins are stacked attractively with hay bales and potted flowers, a huge general store is doing brisk business, and children are running to catch the barrel train over by the gigantic playground. In the distance, the entrance to the corn maze looms, and when the sun goes down, the fun really starts.
“Now we have seven ticket windows, online sales, and on a busy Saturday, as long as the weather’s good, we’ll see thousands of people come through here.”
Brenda’s husband Jim used to be a cattle feeder, and although the farm was owned by the family, it had been run for years by tenant farmers. Jim’s friend told him about his pumpkin patch, and they thought it sounded like a fun community experience to try out on their farm.
They never expected the seeds of that idea to yield the business they have today.
How Do I Find My Way Outta This Thing?
Next they added a pretty basic corn maze, which consisted of Jim growing a field of corn and then cutting a path through it in August. The following season they heard about a guy in Idaho who designs corn mazes digitally, and decided to fancy it up.
If you flew over the Anderson Farms’ corn maze this year, you’d pick out a skier and a snowboarder, and in past years you would have spotted a buffalo, coal miners, and hot air balloons. It’s a kid-friendly experience with 18 checkpoints and a couple of games, like using animal footprints to figure out who scarfed the farmer’s pie.
Customers occasionally get lost in the corn maze; the other night Brenda got a call at 10:30 p.m. that someone was just going around in circles. “If there are cars left in the parking lot, we go out and find them,” she laughs.
Terror, Zombies, and Ghosts…Oh My!
The older crowd comes after dark for Terror in the Corn and Zombie Paintball Hunt. An old west ghost town is part of the set and you follow the path through the scenes, getting the bejeezus scared out of you with every step. Yelling and screaming are de rigueur.
As the business grew, so did the employee base: Brenda and Jim brought their daughter Rachelle and her husband Michael on board to help manage the operation, and many other family members, young and old, work in various capacities all over the grounds.
Brenda likes that all members of a family can come and enjoy the fall festival, from young kids to grandparents. “We once heard a kid say that his favorite part of all was the dirt,” she told me. “I thought that was pretty great. We haven’t done our job if kids aren’t leaving here tired and dirty at the end of the day.”