Eveca Mahoney buries her son Rome Rediker, 4, of Biddeford, in the corn pit at Pumpkin Valley Farm in Dayton on Sunday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Sunday may not have offered postcard weather, but neither gray skies nor chilly temperatures could scare off families hungry for a taste of the fall festivities at Pumpkin Valley Farm in Dayton.

“This is definitely a New England activity, right?” asked Laura Segalla of Biddeford, shortly after emerging from a corn maze with her boyfriend Brendan McCarthy and their dog Mr. F. “You have to get a pumpkin.”

For the couple, like thousands of others around southern Maine, the changing of the leaves means it’s time to visit local farms to hitch a hayride, sample apple cider and, yes, get a pumpkin.

Most people associate farming with produce and livestock cultivation, said Keith Harris, who owns Pumpkin Valley Farm with his wife, Angela. But his family makes its living in a different corner of the industry: agritourism.

Matt Baber of North Yarmouth carries son Logan, 3, while Ashley Baber follows, in the corn maze at Pumpkin Valley Farm in Dayton on Sunday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

For most of the nearly 150 years his family has owned and operated the farm, they’ve focused on growing vegetables, Harris said. But after a changing economy made it difficult to hire the number of farmhands they needed to succeed as a vegetable wholesaler, the family decided to pivot to a new strategy – instead of bringing produce to the people, Pumpkin Valley would aim to bring people to the produce.

Like other agritourism farm owners, Harris and his family still spend much of the year growing. Instead of going to market, their corn stalks become the walls of a towering maze, while their pumpkin patch lures families in search of rustic autumn decor – or a spooky jack-o’-lantern. Goats, donkeys and chickens awe the farm’s youngest visitors, while adults can sip on craft beer and the “Cow Lick Cafe’s” ever-popular kettle corn.


While it may not be easy to find traditional farmhands, Harris said, plenty of people are willing to man the ticket booths, concession stands and play areas that draw legions of happy kids each year. And even more want to visit.

Brianna Walton has relatives in agriculture, and she’s been around their farm enough to know that she’s not interested in working the land herself. But she said spending a day at Pumpkin Valley with her wife Melissa and their 20-month-old son was too special an experience to pass up.

“He’s into everything – loved the donkeys,” Brianna Walton said as she strolled with her son through the pumpkin patch. Then she paused to think before adding an amendment. “Wasn’t a huge fan of the goats licking his hands.”

Ethan Bedard of Sanford plays with his daughter Avery, 3, at Pumpkin Valley Farm’s pumpkin patch Sunday. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Even compared to traditional farms, agritourism spots are at the mercy of the weather, Harris said. While heavy rainfall can produce great crop yields – Harris said this year’s sunflower crop was probably the best Pumpkin Valley has ever seen, and the corn maze walls currently reach an impressive 9 or 10 feet tall – they can also keep visitors away or even shut down the farm completely, as it did this Saturday. But despite all the water this year, Harris said business remains solid. The farm now employs more people than it did when it sold vegetables, and Harris is looking forward to a sixth and then a seventh generation carrying on the family legacy.

His niece Lily Harris, who was staffing the pumpkin weigh station Sunday afternoon, said it wasn’t much of a decision to work at Pumpkin Valley. She remembers spending her childhood at the farm, challenging her friends to see who could run through the corn maze the fastest. But just as important as the family connection is the chance to see smiles on the faces of the young families in their boots and flannels.

“I like to see all the cute little kids,” she said. “I’d probably work here anyway.”

Pumpkin Valley Farm will be open next Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. before closing for the 2023 season.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: