For most, Autumn is filled with fond memories of school visits to the pumpkin patch, carving jack-o-lanterns, sipping cider, and enjoying the beauty of the colorful fall landscape. For members of the agricultural community though, fall is all about harvest. While many Farm Bureau Members spend long days and nights bringing in the winegrape or apple harvest, longtime Farm Bureau Member and successful dairyman Larry Peter spends his days with a farm full of pumpkins and children.
Since 1994, Peter has generously opened up his iconic Spring Hill Farm and hosted a pumpkin patch for the general public. The pumpkin patch began as a way for Peter to diversity his farm income but has grown into an opportunity for families from near and far to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a farm firsthand against the backdrop of the beautiful Sonoma County
“Families can spend a beautiful day looking out at the same rolling hills that made this area the milk and egg capital of the world 100 years ago,” Peter said. “I hope visiting the farm helps them to understand how enchanting our agricultural history really is.”
His motivation to start a pumpkin patch was carved out of his desire to share his love of agriculture with others.
“It makes me happy seeing people without farms get to experience a farm,” Peter said. “Adults, kids and families can learn about farm animals, experience the joy of growing food, and spend a day together in the countryside.”
The Great Peter Pumpkin Patch is all about fun, family and community. Peter invites school children and families to share in the bounty of his farm for free. People from all across the Bay Area and from diverse backgrounds can take a hands-on approach to learn about farming and about where their food comes from.
“We want the next generation to see where our food comes from,” Peter said. “Being up close with a pig, goat, or cow can make someone connect back with the beauty of all living things.”
The true farm experience doesn’t have any flashy commercial attractions or amusements. Instead, Peter said he is committed to welcoming visitors to experience a true American farm.
“Kids see the countryside and learn that milk doesn’t come from the grocery store,” Peter said. “When they get to milk a cow for the first time, I don’t think they will never forget that.”
Peter invites guests to hunt through the pumpkin patch and pick their favorite pumpkin right off the vine, run through the corn mazes, milk a gentle Jersey cow, ride on the back of a tractor, navigate the corn or hay mazes, bump along on an old-fashioned hayride, and take a look back through farming history by checking out old wagons and other vintage farm equipment.
There’s a petting zoo, a chance to get hands on, up close and personal with cows, calves, sheep and pigs, potato digging, samples of award-winning cheeses, and even homemade pumpkin ice cream. The best part? The public is only charged for pumpkins, potatoes, ice cream and refreshments.
The pumpkin patch is a popular destination for harvest time field trips and Peter invites teachers to use visits to the pumpkin patch as an outdoor classroom. Nearly 6,000 children roam among acres of pumpkins, dig up potatoes from the soil, and wonder at the atmosphere of an everyday dairy farm each year.
During these harvest time field trips, Larry said he hopes students learn to appreciate Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage.
“Rolling up their sleeves up and picking a pumpkin right off the vine or digging up some potatoes might get some dirt under their fingers, but I hope guests will leave with more respect for where local food comes from,” Peter said.
Peter said that he hopes the experience of visiting the pumpkin patch, which is located at the iconic Spring Hill Farm, pays big dividends for the future of the agricultural industry.
“If we can get kids and families out into this beautiful countryside and give them a good time then they leave inspired and more connected to the agricultural history, that’s great,” Peter said. “We hope their time here sparks up respect for the land and plants some seeds for farmers of the future.”
To some, hosting a bustling pumpkin patch with thousands of visitors annually would be challenging, however, Peter said his over years 25 years of hosting the pumpkin patch are filled with fond memories of 3, 4, and 5 years-old children singing songs about farm animals, dancing around to country music and loving their time at the patch all while wearing smiles on their faces.
“The pumpkin patch is about having fun and if you can’t have fun doing something and love it, then you shouldn’t do it.”
Peter’s love of farming was instilled in him at an early age. The lifelong farmer said that his homesteading parents gave him his start in the agriculture industry.
“My parents had one cow, they grew everything they needed on their homestead and sold potatoes at the farmers market,” Peter said. “I started farming because of my mom and dad and it will be through agriculture that I will leave the world a little better than when I found it.”
Peter, who started milking cows in 1987 now runs a successful 400 cow organic Jersey dairy and Petaluma Creamery. He said he looks forward to pumpkin season each year because a new generation of kids is able to learn and be inspired about farming and agriculture.
Be sure to carve out a free day in your fall schedule to visit the Great Peter Pumpkin Patch. It is located at Petaluma Creamery, 4235 Spring Hill Rd., Petaluma, CA and is open from 9 a.m. to dusk through October 31. For more information, check out the Great Peter Pumpkin Patch/ Petaluma Creamery on Facebook or visit https://www.springhillcheese.com/pumpkinpatch. Schools or organizations interested in booking a trip should call (707) 762-3446.