BUCKLEY — For 6-year-old Edward Hull and his 10-month-old brother, Walter, Tuesday was a special day.
The youngsters got a chance to visit Pahl's pumpkin patch in Wexford County to pick out some gourds for around the house, go through a corn stalk maze, and check out the animals.
Great grandfather Glen Martin said Edward is attending school remotely this year, and being able to get out for a little break is nice.
"He's really smart," Martin said. "When he gets his work done early, we go outside. Kids get pent up this time of year. Anything to get them off their tablets."
Holly Pahl, owner of Pahl's pumpkin patch, located on M-37 just south of Buckley, said they lost about a third of their business this year when schools canceled fall field trips as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding staff to work at the pumpkin patch also has been very difficult, as many people would rather remain on unemployment benefits, Pahl said.
"We weren't even going to have a pumpkin patch this year," Pahl said. "But so many people contacted us wondering if we were going to be open. It's really a tradition for a lot of people, so when we knew we could do it safely, we decided to do it."
While this won't be a year to write home about in terms of the money they make with the pumpkin patch, Pahl said they are extremely busy on weekends and the weekdays also have been picking up as families with virtual students such as Edward take a break from the daily grind for some fresh air.
"They want to get out and do something," Pahl said.
This year is different in what they're able to offer at the pumpkin patch as a result of COVID: they aren't serving food right now and they've canceled hayrides because there's no way to sanitize the wooden carriage or the hay inside, Pahl said.
Something they've added this year as a replacement for hayrides is a scavenger hunt through the nearby woods, which Pahl said has been very well received by visitors.
This year they also unveiled their newest attraction, a large slide built into a grass-covered mound. They also opened up a second corn maze and added an energetic calf, some alpacas and baby peacocks to their petting zoo.
Apart from the biggest pumpkins in the patch, which always are the first to get chosen by excited kids, Pahl said people also have been on the lookout for white pumpkins and those of the "stackable" variety.
"That seems to be the trend right now," Pahl said.
Pahl's pumpkin patch and Pahl's Country Store (at the same location) are open every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Other pumpkin patches in the area include Norman's Farm, located at 22735 20 Mile Road in Tustin; and Dick's Family Farm, located at 7710 S 7 Mile Road in McBain. Norman's is open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Dick's is open from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.