Each year millions of children anticipate Halloween, the holiday that invites them to roam open fields dotted with gourds in hopes of finding the right one to take home, gut and proudly display on their front porch: It's pumpkin carving season.
Local farmer and pumpkin grower Steve Jacobsen, 52, of the Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch located off Alamo Pintado Road, has been helping children in their quest for the perfect gourd since 2010, when he started the back-breaking task of loading, hauling and unloading the heavy cousin of squash. Luckily, he needn't go it alone.
"It's a family deal," he said of his semi-retired farmer dad, Arne Jacobsen, 79; daughter and pumpkin patch operator and director of marketing, Tayler Jacobsen, 24; and nephew and fellow farmer Allan Bramsen, 26.
"Dad is first generation," says Jacobsen. "Allan and I do the growing and Tayler is our salesperson."
Arne Jacobsen proudly pointed out the three generations present, mentioning that his great-grandson, Bramsen's young son who wasn't there, is poised to be the fourth generation farmer in the family.
Arne walked agilely through the maze of pumpkins and explained that after emigrating to Canada from Denmark in 1960, he met his wife Birgit and in the 80s relocated to Santa Ynez where they continued working as farmers. "We started with regular produce and somehow got started," he said. "Why pumpkins?" he asked. "Why not?"
The original Solvang Farmer pumpkin patch was started by Arne in 1985, situated off Highway 246. In addition to the pumpkin patch was a smaller version of the current corn maze that his son now grows every year, covering more than half of the farm.
When Arne stopped growing pumpkins around the year 2000, 10 years went by before Jacobsen said he finally got the itch to start his own pumpkin patch business. "I guess it's in my blood," he said with a smile.
A few years later, Jacobsen said his dad suggested doing a corn maze. "I didn't want to originally, but I guess it was a good idea; it gives our customers more to do here because I didn't want to do the whole circus thing. I think people like the traditional, low-key, pumpkin patch experience," he said.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Jacobsen described the five-month prep work required to ready the pumpkin patch and corn maze for the fall season.
"We planted the corn in July and the pumpkins we started in May. There's nothing that a little water and fertilizer can't take care of. It all really took off," he said, admiring their work and pointing to the 10-foot corn stalks and voluminous, perfect-for-carving pumpkins, some weighing well over 30 pounds.
With more than 40 pumpkin varieties in existence, to continue to modernize and "stay with the times," Jacobsen said they grow over a dozen different varieties on their 10-acre lot located directly across the street from their pumpkin farm.
"We grow everything ourselves. Pumpkins used to be open-pollinated and now you've got hybrids. We have these varieties where you get the big thick stemmed pumpkins that people tend to prefer. And those goofy ones over there," he said, pointing, "the one that looks like an octopus. That seed is $1,200 per pound," he said, shaking his head.
According to Jacobsen, the most popular pumpkins are the blue and green Cinderella variety because they make a sweeter pumpkin pie.
A maze of corn
When asked if he tests out his own corn maze, Jacobsen laughed and tapped his foot at the entryway. "No, I'm afraid to go past this point," he said.
Kids get lost in the stalks every year, Jacobsen said, but all people -- big and small -- find their way out.
"If you hit the right trail at the right time, you're looking at 20 minutes, but if you take a wrong turn, you have to double-back completely on what you've done and try to find that right trail to get you back around. You'll have to come all the way back to start over," he said. "I've seen people take over two hours."
Every year the entire field is planted with corn, Jacobsen said. And in one morning with a cup of coffee he says he designs the plans for a new corn maze on a piece of paper. The stalks are then "wiped out" with a tractor and rototiller to create the pathways. "This is the first year the maze contains all right angles and no circles or sweeping corners. Every year is different," he added.
In about three weeks, after all the machinery and the farm stand is hauled away, left-over pumpkins are sold for livestock consumption, and all the corn stalks are green-chopped and sold for cattle feed, Jacobsen said squinting into the sun, "I'll probably take a weekend off."
The Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch will close out its season Nov. 3.
Open daily, Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., the kid's maze (lasting 3-4 minutes) is $3 and free for parents. The adult maze is $6 per person and free for children two years and under. For more information about the pumpkin patch or farming services, contact Steve Jacobsen of SJ Custom Farming at 805-331-1918.
This report was compiled by Lisa André. You can reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LAndréSYVNews
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.