Pumpkins, the mascot of fall, headline a pair of festivals at two area farms.
The 11th annual Pumpkin Patch at Holland Farms and the 12th annual Corn Maze and Fall Fun at Sweet Season Farms honors the harvest season with farm-themed rides, games, food, and a challenging corn maze. They run through the first week of November in the heart of Santa Rosa County.
“It’s bringing people to the north end of the county,” said B.J. Holland, who runs Holland Farms. “It’s all about exposure. That’s the way I see it.”
Hurricane Sally flattened most of the corn crop, but it quickly rebounded after being dried by the sun. The farms have also modified their events for COVID.
“We moved our ticket booths out in the open,” said Holland. “We have hand sanitizing stations and we’ll be sanitizing the high-touch areas. Other than that, everything is normal.”
As a family event, the games and rides at the festivals are an obvious draw for kids, but older children and adults head to the maze toward the back of the properties. The dense columns of rustling stalks invite a certain mystique that presages Halloween. Holland Farms offers three versions: one for kids, a novice maze, and the prominent one that can take over an hour to navigate. A peanut farmer foremost, Holland started the maze about five years ago due to popular demand. Ironically, corn isn’t much of a cash crop in the Florida panhandle.
“I can grow corn for a corn maze and profit from the agritourism side,” he said. “I can’t do that and sell the corn at market for $4 a bushel.”
Holland hires a company to build the maze. With the aid of GPS, the field is planted in August according to his chosen design.
At Sweet Seasons Farms, the corn maze is a labor of love with a secondary purpose.
“We grow it for the maze, obviously, but then we harvest it and feed it to our cattle,” said Trent Mathews, who owns the farm with his wife, Sharon. “We draw a picture out on graph paper and we start in the corners counting rows. We cut it by hand.”
On Friday nights the field becomes a “Flashlight Maze” for a more nocturnal experience.
“We light up the rest of the farm and the maze itself stays dark,” said Sharon. “It’s scarier enough being out in a corn field at night without something jumping out at you.”
Sweet Seasons Farms is primarily a cattle operation. Mathews ceased row cropping but still grows enough flowers to invite pickers in the spring.
“We’ve done a little bit of everything over the years, but cattle have always been a staple on our farm,” said Mathews. “We raise the babies and get them up to 500 pounds and then we sell them.”
Mathews is a descendant of Jesse Carter Allen, who was the first sheriff of Santa Rosa County in the late 1800’s. Allen raised sheep and harvested tung oil, which was used to finish wood. The surrounding community, 20 minutes north of Milton, bears his name. Located near State Highway 87, the area is marked by gentle rolling hills in the Blackwater River drainage basin, leaving a suitable terroir for cotton and peanuts, especially at Holland Farms.
“We have a sandy soil which is really right for peanuts,” said Holland. “You need a well-drained soil.”
Peanuts are root nuts as opposed to say, pecans, which grow on trees. Holland Farms bills itself as “The Nuttiest Place Around” owing to its hearty output of green peanuts and commercial nuts sold for future processing. It also supplies “The World’s Largest Peanut Boil” in Luverne, Alabama, an annual event with a 30-plus ton order. The Pumpkin Patch is a modern addition to its long history.
“The beginning of the Holland farm goes back to 1870,” he recalled. “It’s still on the same property.”
The farm was bequeathed by his father’s uncle to B.J.’s parents. His father, Bruce, handles the market harvest while B.J. oversees the row cropping and agritourism. A retail area caters to visitors throughout the year.
“We sell green peanuts here and to grocery stores for people to boil,” said Holland. “Or they come here and buy them pre-boiled.”
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Perennial visits to the farm also include photographers wanting to catch a bucolic sunset and couples exchanging vows at the Heavens Trail event barn. As an annual event, the Pumpkin Patch is an opportunity to explore life on a farm and understand what it provides to the people. Holland said that, despite all the hardships, he hopes his 2-year old son will want to do it when he grows up and keep the farm in the family.
For Mathews, Sweet Seasons was a homecoming. Born and raised here, he moved around as an adult and then returned to see that his dad and grandpa were still farming. He decided to take it on.
“I always dreamed of being home on the farm,” he said.
Address: 2055 Homer Holland Rd., Milton
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 9a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday
Contact: 675-6876 or Hollandfarmsonline.com
Cost: $12 wristband, includes one pumpkin, free for 2 and under, passes and group rates available
Sweet Season Farms
Address: 2260 Horn Road, Milton
Hours: Oct 3-Nov 8: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays
Friday night hours: Oct. 13, 23 and 30 only: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., (flashlight maze)
Contact: 675-3573 or Sweetseasonfarms.com
Cost: Unlimited access is $12, partial access is $10, pumpkin NOT included, Friday night flashlight maze, 2 and under free, season passes, group rates
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