Eleven days before the opening day of their annual pumpkin patch, the Valas are up early Labor Day to put the finishing touches around the farm.
According to Jan Vala, roughly 250,000 people attend the seasonal event each year.
32 years ago, the 400-acre operation started off as a small self-pick strawberry farm with no employees. The only helping hands the Vala’s received came from their parents.
Today, the family-run business has approximately 800 seasonal employees, Tim Vala says, and roughly 10 people work year-round to bring the six-week operation to life.
The patch is known for its pies while featuring fall landmarks like corn mazes and haunted houses. There's also the 55-acre pumpkin orchard and an apple orchard roughly half that size for families to pick from.
When they’re not running the patch, the family is thinking of ways to grow the longtime local favorite.
We have ideas now – for the next three, four years actually, Tim Vala says.
Right now, the Vala's are focused on this year's new highlight: the Egg Scramble Barn.
Described best by the family, consider the indoor play structure as a “dodge ball egg-stravaganza.” The brand new, three-story barn features canon-like apparatus that shoot out foam balls. It’s part of Freya’s Chicken Yard, a new area named after one of the Vala’s grandchildren. The poultry-theme section features a musical puppet show, games and, of course, a chicken coop.
Also in the center of the chicken yard is a toy piano with large keys inviting people to step on them – prompting hens (named after celebrities) to squawk in varied tones. (Think Tom Hank’s in the 1988 movie “Big” but with a clucking sound.)
It’s interactive for the whole family, instead of parents watching from a distance at their kids having fun, Tim Vala says.
Last September, the new yard was a soybean field. In the spring, construction began for the barn.
We've talked about it for maybe three or four years, but these ideas take time, Tim Vala says.
When asked if the family feels pressure to outdo themselves every year, Tim Vala says no one is forcing them to expand.
“Our philosophy for our business is to re-invest into the business and do something new every year,” he says.
Vala’s Pumpkin Patch Fall Festival opens Sept. 16 at 9 a.m.
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