By Tanner Hood
Orange orbs scattered across green fields draw the eyes of travelers down Highway 43 in Washington County to Richardson Farms Pumpkin Patch.
There, Anna Richardson’s dream is coming to life.
“I used to tell my husband and three sons I wanted to do a pumpkin patch when I retired,” said Anna, a former teacher. “When I found out Ross (Henderson) was interested in doing a patch, I got excited.”
Anna’s belief in Ross, her daughter-in-law Miranda’s brother, was well placed. In 2022, hay towers and rides, a cow train, corn pits with slides, swings, zip lines and other fun amenities for kids and adults were assembled. Families could purchase pumpkins, and cotton, corn and peanuts were planted close by to showcase crops grown on south Alabama farms.
“The first year was trial and error,” Anna said. “We were able to learn a lot, listen to our guests and better prepare for this coming season.”
Planning for that second season began as soon as the last pumpkin was sold, said Miranda Richardson, an educator in nearby Clarke County. Preparations started in May with planting and were slated to continue till opening day Sept. 30.
“As soon as we finished up our season, we had a meeting and discussed what was good, what worked, and we’re constantly brainstorming to make everything better,” Miranda said. “We keep a group text between all the family members to spread thoughts about the pumpkin patch and how to make it more enjoyable for our guests.”
One idea was planting pumpkins for visitors to pick straight off the vine.
“This year, we have mammoth gold, jack-o’-lantern, blue doll and a few other decorative styles planted on 3 acres,” Ross said. “We wanted kids and parents to actually get into the patch and choose a pumpkin from the ground it was grown on.”
Homegrown pumpkins represent the purpose of Richardson Farms Pumpkin Patch — introduce the intricate beauty of agriculture to the community.
“We wanted somewhere for families to go and enjoy, make memories and be outside learning what happens on an actual farm,” said Ross’s wife, Brittany. “The kids like to get out and touch, feel and see stuff they don’t see every day.”
Getting kids to the patch wasn’t a problem.
More than 4,200 guests visited the farm last year, while 27 school groups brought in over 1,000 students.
Anna and Miranda taught students the importance of farmers and what products are grown in the area. Students could hold cotton bolls, play with peanuts pulled straight from the ground and examine corn with the husks still on.
“Miranda and I got the schools to come to the farm, and we did a farm day before the pumpkin patch opened,” Anna said. “We continued inviting schools out when we opened the patch because it’s important the kids learn about agriculture.”
More than 20 schools are signed up to visit the farm Thursdays and Fridays throughout October. Anna plans to implement Ag in the Classroom lessons to broaden the educational experience.
For Richardson Farms, this agritourism venture is possible thanks to unwavering support from the community and strong family bonds.
“Everyone was so glad to have something right here at home in Leroy,” Anna said. “The schools stepped up and showed up. In an area where people drive an hour to go to a doctor, being local and rural helped because everyone likes having it close.”
Expectations are high this year.
“It’s a good opportunity because there’s not a lot to do in our area,” Brittany said. “People have been asking us about this year’s season since we closed in 2022. Everyone enjoys it because they always see someone they know and get to sit and catch up while the kids just go and be kids.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Area 9 Organization Director Robert Utsey praised the Richardsons’ community focus.
“The folks around here love everything local,” Utsey said. “From high school football and church to pumpkin patches, everyone loves their community and rallies around each other. If it’s locally done, folks will get in and get behind it.”
Community members are like family — and family is everything, Anna said.
Pumpkin patch season hits at harvest. While Anna’s husband, Rod, and sons Walt, David and Will are in the field, other family members work side by side creating memories for their community.
“Family is invaluable,” Brittany said. “None of this would be possible without family.”
To find a local pumpkin patch, visit SweetGrownAlabama.org.