“We don’t want to be Knott’s Berry Farm,” said Jeana Zedoff, farm manager of Spooner Farms. “This is definitely still a real farming operation.”
There’s little sign of it, though, during the month of October when the Puyallup Valley operation presents the Spooner Farms Harvest Festival.
In 20 years, the festival has grown from what was essentially a U-pick pumpkin patch to a harvest and Halloween extravaganza that attracts between 3,000 and 5,000 people a day during October weekends and regularly causes traffic jams on state Route 162 east of Puyallup.
In addition to 60 varieties of pumpkins for sale this year, the Spooner Farms Festival features a massive corn maze — where people can get lost for $8 a head — food and gift shops, 10 commercial venders, pony rides, face-painting, a race track for kids, and tours on a tractor train.
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For a dollar, festival goers get two chances to lob pumpkins at an old Dodge camper with pumpkin slingshots.
The explosive growth of the festival has surprised even Zedoff.
“I think it’s partly because it’s something that’s authentic,” she said. “Especially in South Hill area where it’s just store after store.”
“I think the fact that it’s still a farm, even with all the bells and whistles, is what attracts people to it.”
On Saturday, traffic headed for Spooner Farms was so heavy it stopped cars for a mile on SR 162. The main parking lot at the farm filled before noon, and several hundred more cars were detoured into a nearby pasture.
“It’s going to be worse next weekend,” said a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy directing traffic on the highway. “Sometimes it backs up all the way to Sumner.”
Zedoff, who’s been organizing the festival for the Spooners for the past 14 years, said there were 10 festival employees when she started. This year there are 90.
“People don’t just come for the pumpkins anymore,” she said. “You’ve got to entertain them while they’re here.”
Despite the festival’s runaway growth, Zedoff said it’s by no means Spooner Farms’ primary enterprise.
The farm grows pumpkins on about 70 acres, she said, an operation that is dwarfed by berry production on land throughout the Puyallup Valley. “Berries are the big thing,” she said. “Berries are what we do.”
Spooner Farms has been family-owned and -farmed since 1882. Owners Jeff, Andrea, Rebecca and Sam Spooner represent the fourth and fifth generations.
“The reason I’m here and the reason I give my heart to this operation is that it’s still a family operation,” Zedoff said. “Jeff Spooner and his son are in the field every day. It hasn’t been outsourced. It’s a family tradition.”
“We love to hear people say, ‘We’ve been coming here since my kid was born,’ ” Zedoff said, “and we love to educate people on how to make jam and preserves out of all this great food that’s raised in this valley.”
And, while Knott’s Berry Farm is not a model, Zedoff said she would like to see more growth.
“I’d like to add more features,” she said. “People like lots of activities.”