Like many local families, I was disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t be able to recreate our cherished fall trip to Rombach this year, but decided it was finally time to venture beyond the rows of the pumpkin patch that we had spent so much time exploring. Conversations with other St. Charles County families turned my attention toward Eagle Fork Pumpkins and Gifts, so on a lovely September day, I put on a flannel shirt and dusty boots and set out on my own for a much-needed trip into the country.
As I merged onto Hwy. 40/61, I reflected on times early in my career when writing assignments frequently took me down unfamiliar highways with nothing more than a reporter’s notebook and a poorly folded highway map, and was grateful now for the reliability of the maps app on my iPhone. As it turns out, the app I was using hadn’t accounted for the closure of the exit that I needed to reach Eagle Fork Lane, and I soon found myself on a twisty, dusty gravel road lined by corn fields and hugged by trees that reached upward and arched overhead, almost entirely blocking out the blue sky above. If there is a patron saint of magazine editors he was surely smiling upon me, because I only meandered a few minutes before spotting the welcoming Eagle Fork sign, surrounded by colorful mums and piles and piles of giant pumpkins.
On a quiet Monday morning, final preparations were underway to prepare for another fall season on the farm, which has been welcoming pumpkin hunters for 20 years or so. Co-owner Laura Meyer rushed out to greet me at the gate. The best way to explore the approximately 100-acre farm was by golf cart, she told me, so we set out on a trip, just the two of us. She pointed out the large farmhouse at the entrance, constructed in the 1870s by her husband Charlie’s family. Next to it sits a smokehouse, also from the 1870s; handwritten recipes scrawled across one wall harken its original purpose, though today it serves as a gift shop stocked with craft items lovingly made by teachers in the Lincoln County R-III School District; a portion of proceeds support scholarships for local students.
Just past the smokehouse sits a mining activity, installed in the past four or five years, where young prospectors can pan for gems while learning a bit about Missouri geology. The small area near the entrance also houses a large barn, pony rides, a play structure for goats, a corn bin, an apple canon, a playground, a food stand, a barrel train and a small shop stocked with Melissa & Doug toys.
We drive a bit farther and Meyer points out a large butterfly statue, a monument to her love of monarchs (she even raises her own caterpillars). She speaks from experience about the importance of protecting pollinators, and why having bees on the farm produces superior pumpkins. We turn onto a rutted, tree-lined path that serves as the route for the farm’s hayrides, which are about 20 minutes in length. Children love this particular spot, she says, because deer and wild turkeys often amble in front of the antique tractors pulling the wagons on this part of the ride early in the morning.
We pass tree stumps, which will soon be decorated with pumpkins by high school students from the local FFA. The students volunteer on the farm several nights a week in the fall. For many, it’s a true labor of love; they come back each year, and some even return home from college on weekends to lend a hand.
We stop at the entrance to the farm’s corn maze. This year, the 10-acre maze pays tribute to the days of steamboat travel along the Mississippi. The corn maze, which Meyer first charmed her husband into cutting with a push lawnmower 16 years ago, is now a high-tech operation plotted and carved by one of the top corn maze wizards in North America using farm equipment installed with GPS, and documented via drone.
As we return to the entrance, I pause next to a scarecrow posed next to a measuring stick; a fresh coat of paint with “2017” has been added to a sign next to it, so families visiting year after year can stop and track their children’s growth. Meyer, a retired teacher, insists that I return with my own children, who happened to be at school during my visit, and I assure her that I will, because this century-plus farm is certainly worthy of becoming a new family tradition.
Eagle Fork Pumpkins and Gifts is located at 65 Eagle Fork Lane, Moscow Mills, MO, just a stone's throw from St. Charles County. Admission to the farm is free; additional fees apply for individual activities. The farm opens for the 2017 season Sept. 16. For updates, follow Eagle Fork on Facebook.
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