Ringing phones, a semi in the driveway and talk of the upcoming Pumpkin Festival occupied Don and Sonja Nelson’s thoughts on a recent day as they prepare for the event’s 30th anniversary.
This year’s Pumpkin Festival opens Saturday and runs weekends through Oct. 27, with two additional days of fun planned Oct. 17-18 during MEA break.
The Nelson’s annual Pumpkin Festival might remind some people of the spookiness of Halloween, but the Nelsons have a different idea — it’s about having fun, not evoking fear.
The new addition to the festival is tire mountain.
“It’s just for kids to get up and climb into the top, on tires in a circle,” Don said.
Every year they incorporate a corn maze with a particular theme, with this year’s theme being the 30th anniversary. This year, the mega corn maze depicts a 2019 30th anniversary design.
Sonja Nelson was raised on a dairy and turkey farm, and Don Nelson was brought up on a dairy and hog farm. They both studied agriculture at the University of Minnesota and later moved with their three children to their rural Litchfield farm in the late ‘70s.
Love for agriculture and educating kids and others is what inspired the Nelson to start the Pumpkin Festival.
“We just found out a need,” Don Nelson said, explaining how the festival began. “Everybody wanted to come to the farm. Everybody wanted to go and see the animals. Everybody wanted pumpkins. That’s why we started doing it.”
The festival is dedicated to promoting agricultural lifestyle and knowledge, especially due to fewer people living on farms or knowing anything about it, Nelson said.
“I remember someone coming here several years ago,” recalled Val Chellin, who’s been helping the Nelsons with the festival for roughly 26 years, “and she was walking with (her) whole, entire family behind her, and she (said), ‘This is my favorite place in the fall.’ And her face was literally beaming.”
Ninety-five percent of people who attend come from a 100-mile radius, Don said, with visitors from St. Cloud, Willmar, Hutchinson, Twin Cities, Little Falls and Spicer, and others even from Iowa and Wisconsin.
They come to get an up-close look at life on the farm — but also to have fun. And the Nelsons promise plenty of that, with a daily schedule that includes swinging in the 1900 barn hayloft, an Ag Olympics with prizes, and a trebuchet, which is also affectionately known as the “pumpkin chucker flinger thinger” at the Nelson farm.
“We both grew up on dairy farms, herd farms and turkey farms,” Don Nelson said. “We love agriculture. It’s the basic part of the world. Everybody eats. So farmers need to be ... telling kids about agriculture, so they get out on farms and tell them they need farmers to eat. So they should get to know the farmer, at least one.”