The true story of the Great Pumpkin Patch began in 1977, when farmers Bruce and Mary Beth planted a handful of pumpkin seeds in their children’s garden. Over the years, this garden patch has evolved into acres of prime pumpkin-growing land. Today, this Illinois Made family farm, first homesteaded by the McDonald family of Scotland in 1859, is the penultimate destination for the harvest and Halloween seasons, where kids — and kids at heart — arrive every weekend by the carload in search of the real Great Pumpkin. Unlike Sally, who waited all night with Linus only to see World War I Flying Ace Snoopy emerge from the field, families visiting this Great Pumpkin Patch are never disappointed. They discover more than 300 types of pumpkins, squash and gourds from 30 countries grown to a hearty perfection in rich Illinois soil, and experience a farming wonderland with14-acres of conifer and children’s learning gardens, and two historic one-room schoolhouses (from 1912 and 1916). There are also buckboard wagon rides, a menagerie of friendly llamas, goats, turkeys and potbellied pigs, and a corn maze over an acre in scale. Every weekend in September and October, visitors are immersed in the smells of fresh kettle corn, pumpkin ice cream and pulled pork, accented with live music from the region’s most popular folk, country and blue grass groups, including The Corn Desert Ramblers, Illinois Rail and the Battle Creek Country Band.
The Great Pumpkin Patch is one chapter of a grander agri-tourism adventure story. The 200 Acres is a working farm where traditions go back to the earliest days of American agriculture. General Manager Mac Condill, his wife Ginny and sons Mac, Kit, Buck and their families have transformed the farm into teaching grounds for the beauty and flavors of pumpkins, squash and gourds, along with colorful uses of every type of cucurbit. The Condill family also runs The Homestead Seeds, where they offer seeds for more than 400 varieties of cucurbits to self-sustaining gardeners, including novel varieties saved from extinction and one remarkable heirloom squash specimen handed down from a survivor of the Holocaust. Mac’s passion was sparked by his high school botany teacher, leading to a horticulture degree from Illinois State and internship at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa. His ingenuity, knowledge and dedication to sustainability and international seed exchanges — with appearances at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, the Natural Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, The Martha Stewart Show (her annual Pumpkin-Palooza segment is worth googling) and trips to the White House — have made Mac famous among farmers around the world.
Before the Great Pumpkins take flight next Halloween night, visit their Homestead Bakery, also located on the farm, always open and offering pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pancakes and the finest honey-yeast breads you’ll ever taste. On this sixth-generation farm there is a mantra the whole family lives by: we do it all from dirt to dessert.
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