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Pumpkins and Persistence Pays Off at Walters’ Pumpkin Patch in Kansas

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Go big or gourd home at this pumpkin patch in Butler County

By Sheridan Wimmer, Kansas Living

 

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BUTLER COUNTY, Kan. — The Walters started their pumpkin patch in 1986 because of Becky’s love of horticulture. She had been working at a greenhouse in El Dorado when she was presented the opportunity to grow pumpkins of her own.

“I am from the city, but I love planting things,” she says. “I planted pumpkins by hand for a while until it kept growing in size and now everything is mechanized.”

They’ve been growing ever since – in acres of pumpkins and attractions available. The couple’s pumpkin patch is spread over more than 70 acres.

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“We have about 35,000 visitors each season,” Becky says. “We employ 70 people who help us manage the grounds and organize any online bookings or school groups that visit.”

The educational component is important to Becky.

“We teach students the life cycle of gourds – how they grow, how to pick a good pumpkin, all of those things,” Becky says. “It’s great to have teachers and students here for fun, but also to learn.”

Pumpkin economics

During the 1980s, life as a farmer was hard – and that’s putting it lightly. A storm of farm debt, low commodity prices, high interest rates, two droughts and other factors forced thousands of farmers into bankruptcy and small towns suffered with Main Street businesses closing.

“In the ‘80s, interest rates were up to 21 percent,” Becky says. “We didn’t know how we were going to make it to tomorrow. But pumpkins provided us with hope because we had an alternative crop that allowed us to price them the way we wanted to and could charge people to come onto our property to experience the pumpkin patch. 

Pumpkins saved their farm, and they see the impact their agri-tourism location is having on their own finances and the well-being of nearby towns.

The economic impact from the Walters’ Pumpkin Patch is a boon to Butler County and the nearby towns of Burns and El Dorado.

“El Dorado Lake is the top tourism spot in Butler County,” Becky says. “We were told that we’re second. Sometimes it seems like rural economic contributors are a bit overlooked, but when we do well, it impacts downtown El Dorado and the entire county.”

The crisis of the ‘80s is an example of just how important agriculture is to towns across the Midwest – the economic impact is felt from the pumpkin patch to the downtown dentist.

Plump to parched

Drought doesn’t only impact row crops and cattle producers. Pumpkin patches feel the lack of moisture and high temperatures, too.

“When it’s hot and dry like it’s been, the leaves on the pumpkins don’t grow enough to shelter the pumpkins and a lot of them will rot,” Becky says. “Even though pumpkins don’t like a lot of water, they still need a drink.”

The reality of growing pumpkins for retail and a pumpkin patch in a year that is excruciatingly dry means the Walters had to supplement by bringing in pumpkins.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to bring in pumpkins from another farm,” Becky says. “Ever. In about 37 years.”

Becky feels better about the necessity because the pumpkins brought in are still Kansas pumpkins, just from an area of Kansas that received more rain than the Walters’ patch did.

“This is the reality of a tough year,” Becky says. “When we look at the sky and see a dark cloud, we know it’s just going to miss us, so it’s been hard to see the rain just roll through.”

Pumpkin spice and everything made nice

Becky and Carroll have put their hard work into creating a fun atmosphere at Walters’ Pumpkin Patch. Where Becky thrives with planting seeds, Carroll is a pro at building attractions.

“Building things is what Carroll loves to do,” Becky says. “He loves building attractions, so that’s his niche on the farm.”

The pumpkin patch has more than 70 attractions including obstacle courses, various slides, giant tire swings, a scarecrow maze and so much more. There’s even a bar for the parents to enjoy.

There’s fun for every age at Walters’ Pumpkin Patch, and Becky seems to have the most fun with creating value-added products to sell out of their commercial kitchen.

“I so badly wanted this pumpkin jar to use for the pumpkin salsa we make,” she says. “One place wanted $30,000 to make the jar, so we pivoted with good connections and within six months, we had a jar that was only $1.50 each.”

The pumpkin patch sells pumpkin chili mix in the jars now, with a smorgasbord of various pumpkin-flavored treats available for purchase. Their gift shop is a sensory overload of all things fall – pumpkin tchotchkes, décor and collectibles.

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The Walters’ Pumpkin Patch is sprawling, and they intend on keeping it that way.

Becky’s grandson, Dacota, has shown interest in taking over the farm when Becky and Carroll decide to retire – a surprise to the couple.

“We were at a high school event for Dacota and all the kids were saying what college they were planning on going to, or that they were going to become a doctor,” Becky says. “Then Dacota says he’s going to take over the pumpkin patch and Carroll and I about died laughing because we had no idea he was even interested.”

With a succession plan in place with the new announcement from Dacota, the Walters keep having fun and making their pumpkin patch a destination anyone can enjoy.

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“We’ll try anything to make us best, better or different,” Becky says.

Visit Walters’ Pumpkin Patch until Oct. 29 this year. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Their pricing changes depending on the day you visit. Go here for full pricing information and details on attractions.

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