Pumpkin farms turn into theme parks every October. This is when families across Arkansas head out to buy the raw material for their Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, while also enjoying hayrides, corn mazes, piglet races, face painting and a mix of other fun.
Fifteen Arkansas sites, a half-dozen of them less than an hour's drive from downtown Little Rock, are listed on the national website pumpkinpatches.com. Most are owned and operated by families, and a couple have been in business for decades. They figure to be jam-packed this weekend and next, but less crowded on the pre-Halloween weekdays they're open.
An online visit to pumpkinpatches.com/arkansas provides detailed information on all the farms. That includes their location with maps, days and times of operation, admission and activity fees as well as price ranges for the pumpkins. Future jack-o'-lanterns can be picked straight from the vine or bought from tented displays. Snacks and beverages are available for sale. Pets are generally barred from the attraction grounds.
One of the busiest spots in Central Arkansas is Motley's Pumpkin Patch, 13724 Sandy Ann Drive on the southern fringe of Little Rock, east of Geyer Springs Road. Tractor-drawn wagon rides take visitors into the fields for picking. A popular new attraction is the Super Mega Slide, which propels riders sitting on inner tubes down an inflatable ramp. The farm's pig races feature cute piglets not that much larger than a house cat.
Adults visiting BoBrook Farms Pumpkin Patch, 13810 Combee Lane, Roland, can relax with a glass of wine after tracking down the ideal jack-o'-lantern. The site's River Bottom Winery, with a balcony patio overlooking the pumpkin field, offers dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines by the glass. A distinctive sweet choice is chocolate raspberry. Beer is also available. The pumpkin patch offers pig races, mazes and hayrides.
A favorite photo spot at Roseberry Farms, 12223 Arkansas 9, northwest of Benton, is a silhouette of a tractor pulling a cart of pumpkins. Youngsters (and young-at-heart adults) can stick their faces in the drawing's four cutouts and have their mugs whimsically snapped via smartphone. Along with a hayride and a mini-train, both pulled by tractors, they can enjoy a trip into the pumpkin fields in a carriage pulled by a black horse.
On weekends, youngsters at Schaefers Pumpkin Patch, 864 Lollie Road, Mayflower, can ride a pony. Every day of the week, they can crawl through hay tunnels, jump around on hay bales, and play in a jumbo-size sandbox. There's also a learning center for youngsters and adults, with explanations of different grain and vegetable seed along with equipment used on the farm.
Hicks Family Farms, 184 Lasiter Road, between Cabot and Lonoke, sets a folksy tone on its website with this message: "We've got more going on out here than a chicken has feathers!" The action includes both a challenging seven-acre corn maze and a compact maze of straw bales for young visitors. Pony rides and hay rides are among the other possibilities on a farm that has been in the Hicks family since 1913.
Most of the pumpkins bought this month in Arkansas, at seasonal farm setups and elsewhere, will be bought for the carving. Once upon a time, they had wider uses. Some people believed they could be used to remove freckles and heal snake bites. It was also thought their pulp could cure digestive problems in cats and dogs.
Their starring role these days still extends beyond Halloween decor. Next month, they'll take a Thanksgiving Day curtain call as pumpkin pie.