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Lots of fun even before Halloween gets here

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG
Jayden Herrera, 20 months, of Le Grand, is almost ready for Halloween. He already has his pirate costume, and he picked out his pumpkin Wednesday morning, Oct. 13, 2010 at the Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch in Plainsburg.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Jayden Herrera, 20 months, of Le Grand, is almost ready for Halloween. He already has his pirate costume, and he picked out his pumpkin Wednesday morning, Oct. 13, 2010 at the Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch in Plainsburg. Merced Sun-Star

Dressed in his pirate costume, Jayden Herrera looked ready for Halloween, even though the holiday is still a couple of weeks away.

Herrera, 20 months, and his parents were visiting the Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch in Plainsburg on Wednesday morning. Surrounded by acres of bright orange pumpkins, Herrera had a hard time choosing the perfect one. He solemnly picked up one tiny pumpkin, looked hard at it, then put it down to pick up another that seemed to look just like the first one. Herrera apparently found something a little better in the second one, because that's the one he chose to take home.

Little Herrera wasn't the only one choosing a pumpkin Wednesday. Two busloads of students from Farmland School were lined up to enjoy the 5-acre corn maze at the ranch, and students from St. Luke's Episcopal School in Merced were learning about more than just pumpkins.

"I really liked smashing the corn," said Brianna Prince, 7, a second grader at St Luke's.

The "smashing corn" is one of the ways the owners of the pumpkin patch try to educate visitors to the ranch.

"We have grinding rocks for the kids to use," said Stephanie Marchini, who co-owns the patch with Fania Wright. "We teach them about the Yokut Indians that used to live around here, how they had to prepare their food and how hard they worked to get that food."

The pumpkin patch saw its first customers in 1996, when Marchini realized there were very few pumpkin patches in the county. "This time of the year, fall, is my favorite time," Marchini said. "It's the end of harvest and the end of summer. Everything is getting wrapped up."

The patch, on the Fox Creek Ranch, has pumpkins of every size including heirloom pumpkins.

"We have 15 varieties of heirloom pumpkins," Marchini said. "People like them because they're good for cooking."

Dried cornstalks, several varieties of winter squash and bales of straw dotted the ranch, all for sale to use for Halloween decorations.

Jonette Priddell, owner of Priddell Family Day Care in Merced, brought six little kids out to enjoy the patch. Ashton Zentner, 2, of Merced, was one of the children enjoying the patch. Zentner filled a little red wagon with pumpkins, and with a determined look on his face, pulled the wagon around the picnic area.

"I always try to bring the kids out here," said Priddell. "They love this place, they can run around and have a lot of fun."

Two second-grade boys from St. Luke's ended up choosing pumpkins that were a little bit different from the common round ones. Tyler Eaton and Aidan Bayne, both 7, were lugging their skull-shaped pumpkins back to their car, their faces painted like Indians.

"I loved the corn maze," said Eaton. "I only got lost once."

Watching children run all over her ranch, Marchini took a break from helping people find their favorite pumpkin.

"I really enjoy seeing the kids come out here," Marchini said. "Field trips are so special, and these kids are having so much fun."

As the '90s rock group Smashing Pumpkins put it in their "Raindrops+Sunshowers" song:

Rain falls on everyone

The same old rain

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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