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Enchanted Acres Pumpkin Patch offers family fun and 20 varieties of pumpkins

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 10/30/2013 4:17 PM

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SHEFFIELD, Iowa — Shannon Latham wants Enchanted Acres Pumpkin Patch to be a place where families can create memories.

She bought the 20-acre farm west of Sheffield at an auction late in 2012.

The farm had no buildings, just plenty of junk. Her parents, Jim and Shirley Fesenmeyer, and her brother, Rodney, joined her family in cleaning up the place in March 2012. They tilled the ground and planted corn, soybeans, alfalfa and one acre of pumpkins. Enchanted Acres opened under a tent in September 2012.

They planted 3.5 acres of pumpkins along with the corn, soybeans and alfalfa this spring, and a contractor built a red and white barn, which was finished just in time for opening weekend Sept. 20. A snack shack, a playground fashioned from tractor and car tires and a goat pen with a grain bin goat house —Rodney's idea — were added this year.

"This has been a dream of mine," Latham said. "It's a work in progress."

Latham is vice president at Latham Hi-Tech Seeds where she does marketing and event planning. Her husband, John, is president of the company which was started by his grandparents. She and John moved to Sheffield when their children Ian and Ellie, now 12, were 2 1/2 years old.

"With the exception of the Harriman Nielsen Fall Festival, there wasn't a chance to take the kids out for a fun fall experience," Latham said. "I love to be outside and spending time with kids, and I thought it be great if we could provide a place where families could come and make memories together."

She and her children have enjoyed beautiful sunsets, an alfalfa field thick with monarchs and a Robin's nest on the end of the fence.

Ellie loves goats, and they keep several at the pumpkin patch including Nibbles, a bottle-fed Pygmy.

"I grew up on an acreage with lots of pets," Latham said. "I was never bored. I was always engaged in imaginative play. I had a 4-H sheep project. I loved it, and I wanted to provide that for my children, a place where they would learn responsibility and basic business skills."

Latham hosts school field trips where the youngsters pick corn and feed it to the goats.

"We talk about the pumpkin life cycle," Latham said.

The children are treated to pumpkin pie made in Ziploc bags.

"I want them to have a basic understanding that food comes from a farmer who sells it, and it ends up in the grocery store, and there is a process behind it," Latham said.

Latham and Shirley hand-planted pumpkins with a hoe the first year. Jim rigged up a potato digger this year to make rows. A crew of four followed behind planting and covering seeds with soil.

"That was a huge time savings," said Latham.

During the drought, Rodney devised a nozzle for the water tank to irrigate the pumpkins.

Latham bought the giant pumpkin that stood outside Krieger's Greenhouse in Mason City, when the longtime business closed. Rodney cut it in half, hauled it to the farm and reassembled it. Jim, who likes to restore old tractors, painted it Allis Chalmers orange.

"We needed something iconic," Latham said.

Latham planted 20 varieties of pumpkins including Cinderellas, Enchanted Acres' signature pumpkin, Polar Bears, Knuckleheads, Peanuts and Cotton Candy. Orange, red, blue-green, white and speckled pumpkins come in all sizes. Visitors can pick their own pumpkins if they wish.

Jim restored a Black Hawk manure spreader to hold pumpkins and gourds. Made in Waterloo, the machine is orange and green, Enchanted Acres' colors.

Latham will use the barn for cooking, craft and pumpkin decorating classes and rent it out for family gatherings. She plans to finish the upstairs into an enchanted dining room with a fireplace and kitchen for special dinners and tea parties.

"I want it to feel like if Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast were wandering through rural Iowa and came upon a barn, this is where would they dine," Latham said.

Downstairs is a gift shop. She sells locally grown mums as well as vegetables that her parents raise on their farm. The snack shack sells popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, walking tacos, cookies and apple slices with caramel.

Latham said Enchanted Acres would not be successful if it wasn't for her parents who work there nearly every day to help her get the business going.

"I am so thankful for my parents," Latham said. "They are a great support system. They are volunteering their time."

Latham shares kid-friendly pumpkin pie recipe

Shannon Latham, owner of Enchanted Acres Pumpkin Patch, likes to educate consumers about where their food comes every opportunity she gets. At her Sheffield pumpkin patch, she hosts school groups and talks about the life cycle of the pumpkin. To complete the cycle from seed to plate, the children make and eat Pumpkin Pie in a Bag. This is her recipe.

Pumpkin Pie in a Bag

Ingredients:

2 2/3 cups milk

2 packages (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding mix

1 can (15 oz.) solid-pack pumpkin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Graham cracker crumbs

1 can whipped topping

1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag

25 small cups

25 spoons

Scissors

Directions:

1. Combine milk and instant pudding in bag.

2. Remove air from bag and seal it.

3. Squeeze and knead with hands until the mixture is blended — about one minute.

4. Add pumpkin, cinnamon and ginger.

5. Remove the air, seal the bag.

6. Squeeze and knead with hands until blended — about 2 minutes. It should form to the consistency of pudding.

7. Place 1/2 tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of two small cups.

8. Cut the corner of the bag and squeeze pie filling into the cups.

9. Garnish the cups with whipped topping.