Laughter can be heard echoing across the field as children race each other up and down the rows to find the perfect pumpkin. At the Bartels Farm in Fort Collins, Colo., this is the very reason for growing this crop: the children.
“The pumpkins are our main focus, and are my favorite crop to grow. Seeing the kids have fun is what I really enjoy. It’s a lot of work to get them to this point, but to see the little ones running around with a smile on their face is what it’s all about,” said Doug Bartels, who owns the farm.
Pumpkin patches and corn mazes are a popular attraction in the fall, and many places now offer a multitude of events and attractions. However, for Doug and his wife Nancy, their mission is a little bit different. They want to provide affordable produce and family fun for people of all ages.
In the fall, their main focus is on the pumpkin patch. Thousands of people come to the farm every year to pick out their pumpkins and catch up with the Bartels family. People come from Northern Colorado, as well as from Wyoming.
“It’s fun. It’s grown into one of the hardest things we have ever done, but still, it’s the most rewarding. It’s one of the hardest because we are so busy in September and October,” he said.
The family got into the pumpkin business in 2000 after the flower shop where Nancy worked asked if they could provide pumpkin decorations. “My boss asked one day if we ever thought about growing pumpkins, so then we talked about it,” said Nancy Bartels.
The family agreed to do so, and the next year they had their first three rows of pumpkins. They had more pumpkins than expected, and their children enjoyed going out into the field to gather pumpkins.
“When we were picking them out of the field the neighbor kids stopped by and asked if they could pick a pumpkin, so we said sure,” said Doug Bartels.
The next thing they knew, more neighbors began stopping by. Soon after that, strangers were stopping and asking if they could also pick pumpkins. The family soon realized they had a viable pumpkin business, and each year since then the patch has grown in size.
They have 560 acres, and grow corn, hay, and barley in addition to the 49 acres of the farm that is used for the pumpkins. Many area schools come out the visit the farm, and learn about it’s history.
“We teach them about how we grow the pumpkins, and give them a hay ride and they all get to pick out a gourd to take home,” said Susan Bartels.
To grow good pumpkins, the family needs a little help from Mother Nature. “For us a good year has no hail. This year, the vines didn’t start producing pumpkins for us until late August, and so we were a little worried that we wouldn’t have any. After they started to set on, it worked out well. They are irrigated, and I don’t think we would have had anything without irrigation,” he said.
The family does not focus on growing really large pumpkins, but every year they have a few. “We had some 187 pounders this year. We just get lucky. This year didn’t even try and we had seven really nice ones,” said Susan Bartels.
They do have a small corn maze on site, and they map out the pattern using GPS and then knock down the stalks by hand. “Our son does a GPS and walks through and he picks out a design and knocks it down. It seems to work out pretty good,” said Doug Bartels.
They also grow a variety of gourds, squash, Indian corn and vegetables. In the summer months, the family sells a variety of produce, including spinach, asparagus, zucchini, sweet corn, broccoli, cucumbers, beans, chilies, tomatoes, cantaloupe and watermelon.
“We try to grow everything, and then we see what we can get,” said Doug Bartels.
The Bartels family has a lot of families that come from Wyoming, as they are the closest farm to the state line.
“We are the most affordable place this end of the state, and the closest to Wyoming. The price is also what got us started. A lot of these places charge a lot for a pumpkin and I guess we could too, but for us it’s all about the kids,” said Doug Bartels.
People also travel from all over Colorado to come to the farm to pick their own vegetables. “We get a whole barrage of people. We have people come from Denver and Colorado Springs, and they come up and visit with us and spend all day here. We have a barbecue every weekend, and people really seem to enjoy that,” Doug Bartels said.
They don’t sell any of their produce at farmer’s markets. It is all you-pick on the farm, or the neighborhood grocery store. “People just come out here to pick what they want. They have really supported us well,” he said.
The Bartels Farm has been around for more than a century, and celebrated their Centennial Farm status in 2005. The farm is completely family owned and operated, and has been passed down through the family for 107 years.
The Bartels Farm began as a sheep farm, which was operated by Frank Bartels and his father Clyde Bartels. Between Frank and his three sisters, they operated six farms on the front range, and the one that Frank had is the same location where the farm is today.
They also farmed sugar beets, corn, hay and barley in addition to having livestock. Frank’s only child, Duane, eventually took over the farm. The harvested hay and corn was used as livestock feed, and he continued to farm sugar beets. He also harvested barley for Coors, and cucumbers for Dreher Pickle Factory.
Duane focused his efforts on hogs rather than sheep, and they rented out their feedlot areas to local ranchers for their cattle. Duane farmed the land with Doug, who now operates the farm with his son Shawn.
“I grew up on the farm, and now my son is helping and his sons are too. Hopefully we are able to keep going,” Doug Bartels said.
He continued, “We still grow corn, hay, wheat and barley, but are known for our beautiful pumpkin patch and vegetable garden. The farm still buys and sells farm animals as well as renting out land.”
There are now six generations of farmers in the Bartels family who have worked on the farm. “Over the years times have changed, and the farm had to adapt to modern time and conditions to keep the family farm operating. We thank you for supporting your local farmers.”
Educating the public about farming is also important to the family. Through their you-pick program, people can come directly to the farm and harvest the produce themselves, and learn about the process that it takes.
“Everyone thinks that food just comes from the grocery store. They don’t understand where it comes from or what it takes to grow food. A lot of people don’t have any concept of it, and I think it’s important for them to know where their food comes from,” said Susan Bartels. ❖