A now-thriving business began as an experimental fluke in a weedy, hard-to-irrigate field. That was in 1995. My, what a difference a quarter of a century makes.
Rodney Anderson grew up on 80-acres in Loveland, Colo. When he was 9, his father sold off the dairy farm portion, concentrating his efforts on raising field corn, hay, some pinto beans; plus custom haying.
When Rodney was 20 or 21 and recently married, he decided to raise sweet corn on about five acres. That enterprise went so well that he continued selling his harvests at Farmers’ Markets from 1979 to 2001. Ten years of that was at his Loveland location.
In 1989, he moved to Windsor, doubling acreage and expanding crop varieties. That upgrade included 400-500 tomato plants annually, plus sweet corn. But there was this one sad little field that only produced a bumper crop of weeds as it was too difficult to reach with water, until…
“Try pumpkins,” someone casually recommended.
Anderson gave it a try, figuring he had nothing to lose but some seed sown in bone-dry soil. The results were amazing: an abundant, healthy crop as perfect as was his timing. Because that same season, Steele’s Market in Windsor lost its pumpkin supplier and was more-than-eager to accept Anderson’s big, orange orbs.
A LOT LIKE CINDERELLA
When Anderson, wife Patty, and their two sons again relocated, this time to Ault, pumpkins were as top-of-mind as the transformed one that carried Cinderella to the royal ball.
Starting in 2001, Anderson plants 40-acres of them, along with squash and minis. He now raises 40-50 varieties in myriad colors, some for eating (like as the star of yummy pies), others merrily decorative. And he’s always experimenting with new types.
For the first six years, he personally wholesaled to customers, delivering direct rather than through an agent. When approached by one customer to use a third party, for a more-than-paltry fee, he countered by saying only if that company came out to help grow and harvest his crop. The proposal was abruptly declined. He continues on making personal deliveries.
All the while, Anderson busily labored with additional endeavors. He still retains about four regular hay cutting customers, plus tackling his own 600-acres (spread over five different places), 320-acres of which are on his Ault home base.
Most days after morning irrigating, Anderson drives a semi load of hay to dairies. Some are local, others in Windsor, Mead and Fort Lupton. Besides home-grown, he sources additional hay to deliver as a by-order product to dairies as far afield as Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming.
Anderson employes two full-time workers to run the farm when he’s on-the-road, plus his 27-year-old son Tyler, plus 15-20 part-timers for the autumn peak season extravaganza.
When Anderson’s pumpkins originally morphed into an entire season of fun, he sought customers for a U-Pick field by setting up a roadside display.
“I wanted some ‘eye appeal,’” the ag entrepreneur said.
Each year the parking lot exhibit grew, adding hayrides and a one-acre hay maze replete with tunnels and a hay bale roof to — just in time for Halloween — make it deliciously spooky-dark inside. After the massive grassy structure now comprised of seven semi-loads of hay (gigantic bales 3-ft. X 4-ft. X 8 ft. and smaller 60-70-pounders) is hefted into place, let the merriment begin.
“Kids have a ball in there!” Anderson said, noting that some even refuse to come out! Most parents, on the other hand, refuse to go into the shadowy, cave-like maze. Then Anderson or one of his employees has to retrieve the teasingly errant youngsters.
Admitting it makes him feel old, 64-year-old Anderson mentioned that some of those playful children are now grownups bringing their own kids to his maze and U-Pick field. But age is just a state of mind when you own and manage such a joyful place.
Large groups, many of them extended families of up to 50 people, arrive each year to buy pumpkins for follow-up parties at which they carve their jack-o-lanterns, have chili cook-offs and more at someone’s house. Anderson expects even COVID-19 won’t halt that longtime tradition.
LOST IN (OPEN) SPACE
Anderson recalled one memorable crowd, a church youth group, from 2012. They requested a parking lot bonfire for dusk, after the U-Pick lot and hay maze closed. He first gave them a hayride to the field, where they picked their chosen pumpkins. After a return ride to the parking lot, the young people played in the maze of tunnels as he started up a small, cozy blaze.
After a total of about 2½ hours, sufficiently happy group members and their ‘punkins piled into their cars and left. Anderson’s busy day was done… or was it? He spotted a single car remaining in the lot with no owner anywhere in sight. Anderson again checked inside the intricate maze. Not a soul.
He quickly 4-wheeled out to the U-Pick field, worrying about who and where they were. There amongst the rows and rows of vines he found a young, stargazing couple who merely wondered why no one had come out to get them.
As the story unfolded, they said they’d arrived sometime after the final group left the field. The 20-somethings just wandered out and stayed on, admiring the beautiful, clear night and its stunning full moon.
Anderson sincerely apologized to them for not realizing they were out there, to which they replied, “Don’t feel bad. We had a blast!”
On a less romantic note that night, the youth leader’s wife lost her wedding ring — which, unlike the romantic couple, has never been seen again! ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.