Acres of pumpkins

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A trough of mini pumpkins for sale is shown at Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch on FM1171 on Friday.
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Area pumpkin patches open up for fall season festivities

In the middle of summer every year, Jan Balekian begins to pull out Halloween decorations. Dozens of wooden cartoon character cutouts get a fresh coat of paint, and dozens more are cut out, sketched and painted over the summer. This year, Balekian added 36 new ones.

These characters welcome visitors to the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch every year, one of the largest pumpkin patches in Denton County, owned by Balekian. Next door — literally, the neighboring property — Flower Mound Pumpkin Village starts preparing in September by setting up carnival rides and clearing roughly 15 acres of property for activities.

With precise coordination and preparation, these venues sell pumpkins for just one month and aren’t businesses interested in making money, owners at both patches said. The business is to make children and families happy, which is why characters greet children as soon as they enter Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch.

“I love standing out there and watching those kids as they come up the driveway,” Balekian said. “They will be hanging out of the window checking out all of the new characters — I put all the new ones, every year, in the front.”

At Pumpkin Village, preparations start on the actual property, which most of the year is a grazing area for horses, said owner J.W. Stucki. The area is cut in half, and mowed and prepared to make way for the pumpkins.

“For us, we’ve been doing this for 14 years and it’s become quite a production — we have a Ferris wheel, carousel and hay rides,” Stucki said. “We wanted to have more than just regular pumpkins — we even added a petting zoo.”

For the rides, workers assemble the parts and are then inspected by the state and the city and Stucki places the orders for the pumpkins. Every year, he goes through four to six semi-trucks full of pumpkins, he said. Each truck load holds 45,000 pounds. Some years, they even run out.

This is because in an average October, the village sees between 75,000 and 100,000 visitors, depending on the weather that year, Stucki said, and added seeing thousands of kids light up at him and his work each year is most rewarding.

“I like to meet the children having so much fun,” he said. “That’s the most fun for me — to see the families and what it does for the family units and children, whether they’re just taking pictures, eating food or playing in the bounce houses.”

Not every pumpkin patch in the area is such a large operation, however. At the intersection of Teasley and Hobson lanes, the area surrounding Trinity United Methodist Church is littered with pumpkins. The church so far has ordered about 1,600 pumpkins with last year’s profits, and said it might have to order another load soon, said Kristi Melvin, administrative ministries assistant.

This year, Balekian said she was unsure how many pumpkins she ordered — noting she orders mixed loads that fill semi-trucks with gourds, pumpkins, hay and corn primarily from Floydada, a town near Lubbock known for its pumpkin production. She can remember when the loads were small though, when she started selling pumpkins in 1993.

She had a vegetable stand in front of their house that ran on the honor system, until her daughter got in trouble one summer and was grounded. Her summer duties were to tend to the garden, and run the produce stand. For decoration, they added pumpkins and people wanted to buy them. They started to add more pumpkins each year, and made it a patch instead of just a vegetable stand, Balekian said.

“I started it in my front yard, then I progressed out to the pasture, and now it’s to the point where it’s grown to such proportions I never dreamed,” she said. “But you really can take your family and spend the day for $5 a car load, because all the activities are free once you get here.”

Her and about 40 seasonal employees operate the pumpkin patch, from food trucks to mini train rides and the fan favorite, the maze.

“The biggest draw out here is probably the maze. I have 1,000 bales of hay in that maze,” Balekian said. “If I have schools out here and the kids all write me thank you notes, ‘We love the maze’ — that’s the first thing. I put a lot of thinking and planning in that maze when I build it.”

Profits from the season are then reinvested to provide free services the next year, and grow a little more, she said. Also, she pays all 40 of her employees.

The sales at Trinity United Methodist Church benefit the church but next weekend it will donate profits to seven food pantries throughout Denton, and starting Thursday pastors and other members of the ministry will be at the pumpkin patch at all times to interact with guests, Melvin said.

“We just want to reach out to the community and we have a great location to make that happen,” she said. “People keep calling and asking if we’re the pumpkin patch church. We just love it.”

Profits at the Pumpkin Village also benefit charities — primarily the Boy Scouts of America, Stucki said, as well as the youth organizations in the area.

“It’s more of a pumpkin festival if you will, it’s more than just coming to a pumpkin patch. It’s our way to give back to the community,” he said.

Pumpkin Village is located at 4908 Cross Timbers Rd. in Flower Mound and open from 9 a.m. to dusk daily through Oct. 31

Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch is located at 5100 Cross Timbers Rd. in Flower Mound and open from 9 a.m. to dusk daily through Oct. 31

The pumpkin patch at Trinity United Methodist Church is located at 633 Hobson Ln in Denton andopens at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on Saturdays, closing at dusk through Oct. 31

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.

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