By Marlee Moore
As temperatures drop, pumpkins pile up and foliage starts to fall, Alabama farms are opening their gates for family friendly fun.
Abundant autumn activities allow farmers to educate visitors about agriculture (a $70-plus billion industry in Alabama) while offering outdoor adventures in wide-open spaces.
Take Bennett Farms in Heflin. Jim Bennett grew up on the family property in Cleburne County, witnessing farm life firsthand.
“I wanted to create a refuge for those who don’t have the ability to see life on the farm every day,” said Bennett, whose farm will overflow with visitors this October. “You can buy a pumpkin anywhere, but you can’t put a price on the experience and memories you can create at the pumpkin patch.”
Picking the perfect Alabama-grown pumpkin is a treat for little ones looking for a prime carving specimen or adults seeking fall decorating staples. Many farms grow gourds outside the traditional bright orange Jack-O-Lantern variety — such as pale pink Porcelain Doll, prickly Goosebumps, stackable white varieties and blue-green pumpkins.
Alabama has a handful of apple orchards, too, with U-pick or pre-picked options.
Other popular features include corn or hay bale mazes; corn pits; duck races; petting zoos; hayrides; playgrounds; and more. Concession stands hawk fall treats such as caramel apples, kettle corn, funnel cakes, hot chocolate and cider.
Operations like Bennett Farms offer something for everyone, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Brian Hardin.
“There’s nothing quite like farm-fresh air and open, safe areas for kids to play and have fun,” said Hardin, whose Governmental & Agricultural Programs Department works with agritourism operations. “Our farmers are providing that environment, and it’s always exciting to see smiling, happy faces in the pictures families take on farms.”