LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL)– COVID-19 left a huge impact on Rocky Top Pumpkin Patch last year, but they’re operating at full capacity again.
For the past several years, Rocky Top Pumpkin Patch has been the go-to spot for school field trips and family fun weekends. The pumpkin patch would average about 3,000 students coming to visit in just one day for a school field trip. Owner Jan Lawrence told News 3 when the pandemic began, the number of visitors quickly declined.
“In 2020, we were estimating we were going to have about 5,000 students, COVID hit and no field trips that year. We were really optimistic that in 2021, that we would be completely open back up and towards the beginning of the summer, it looked like we were going to be able to go to full capacity with field trips. But at the start of the school year, school systems were still hesitant and they were not giving the go-ahead on field trips until like nine weeks into the school year. During that time COVID numbers went back up, so we probably only averaged to about 1,500 students,” Lawrence said.
Special Education Teacher Whitney Van Gundy said it was extremely difficult last year, not being able to take students on field trips.
“It was very challenging, field trips are something that we all look forward to, and they offer such a great opportunity for our kids to learn outside of that classroom, it was sad honestly,” Van Gundy said.
With schools allowing field trips again, Rocky Top Pumpkin Patch is operating at full capacity again.
“We’re full capacity because we are out in this wonderful country of ours, the only time they go inside the barn is to go to the bathroom or go to concessions to sit down and eat. Otherwise, they have 10 -12 acres to explore,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence told News 3 she’s glad those in the community can experience family fun again.
“That is why we do this, to provide an area where parents can bring their kids, and schools can bring their kids and experience stuff they might not have ever experienced before,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said Rocky Top Pumpkin Patch isn’t your ordinary pumpkin patch, there’s more to do than pick pumpkins.
“Besides our petting zoo and inflatables, we have haybale mountains, we have bowling, tug a war, an animal barn, adult bouncy horses. We have rolly polly hay rides, yard games, zip lines, we just have a lot of stuff to do and one thing that the adults don’t understand when they come here, they are going to be an active participant,” Lawrence said.
Van Gundy said she’s glad her class is able to experience everything the pumpkin patch has to offer now that they’re allowed to go on field trips again.
“They’re having a blast, it’s really fun. We’ve been talking about pumpkins and life cycles and animals all month. But were actually able to take everything that we’ve talked about in the classroom and were able to take it and apply it and show them, to help them generalize those skills. For special education students, it can be really challenging to generalize those skills sometimes,” Van Gundy said.
Even though the pumpkin patch is running at full capacity again, they’re still facing a small problem.
“Even though we are a pumpkin patch, we don’t grow our own pumpkins. This far south we don’t have the climate or the soil, so we depend on those farmers in North America to have our pumpkins and some in Northern Alabama,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence also travels to the Opelika Farmer Market to buy her pumpkins, and her husband will also travel to bigger farmers’ markets in other states to collect pumpkins. Lawrence provides mini pumpkins to give to the students who come for the field trips. Lawrence said she was told to stock up on pumpkins.
“Our Opelika Farmers Market told me at the beginning of the year, you need to get all of them that you can at the beginning of the year because there is a shortage. So for our field trips, we went ahead and got two or three bins of pumpkins and were keeping them in storage so will have enough,” Lawrence said.
So far Lawrence has been able to meet the pumpkin demand for her guests. She’s hopeful the shortage won’t affect her pumpkin patch.
In the meantime, Lawrence is still thinking of ways to expand her pumpkin patch by adding new activities and attractions. She’s also thinking about adding a bonfire where those in the community can stop by and hear ghost stories.
The pumpkin patch is open to the public on the weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.