Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard will open for Labor Day weekend for the first time this year in celebration of its new Apple Festival.
“Every year, we struggle with our honeycrisp apple, which are ready so soon,” said Tim Vala, who owns the fall attraction with his wife, Jan. “We’re always asking, ‘Will they still be good when we open?’”
To celebrate a good yield of crop and the early season of the gala and honeycrisp apples, the farm will open Friday through Sept. 7 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Cost is $13.95 per person plus tax; ages 2 and younger are free.
Free samples of Vala’s own sweet apple cider will be offered alongside apple-centered foods: new-this-year hard cider slushies, ribs and pulled pork with hard cider barbecue sauce, caramel apple pie funnel cake sundaes, apple dumplings and apple cider donuts.
Free train rides will be offered and most attractions will be open, as will apple picking in the orchard.
Curbside pickup orders can be made online and picked up Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Season passes will not work on admission to the Apple Festival event, but pass holders will get an exclusive weekend at the farm the following weekend — Sept. 12 and 13 — before festivities open up to the public officially on Sept. 18.
Naturally, some changes have been made this year as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those uncomfortable with visiting the farm as usual, Vala’s will offer a curbside pickup on Tuesdays for those who miss their favorite fall flavors. The curbside offerings include kettle corn, pies, apple cider and apple cider donuts, caramel apples, cookies, root beer, gift cards and more.
“This is a way to sample the fall, sample Vala’s and not have to get our of your car,” Vala said. “If they don’t feel comfortable coming out because of COVID, at least this way people can come and get some of the experience.”
Vala expects that attendance numbers will be down this year, but recognizes that many may be excited to get back to a sense of normalcy.
“I think there’s some pent-up demand,” Vala said. “There are some people wanting to get out and we’re excited.”
For those attending in person, Vala’s COVID task force has been busy making preparations since April.
Staff wear masks and are screened daily for symptoms, participating in amped-up cleaning efforts and only accepting cashless payment. Visitors are encouraged to wear masks, particularly when in line or indoors.
Plexiglass guards are present at admissions and food vendors, and hand sanitizing is encouraged before and after play. About 250 public hand sanitizing stations have been installed throughout the farm and an additional six hand-washing stations have also popped up.
The number of customers will also be limited, if needed, on particularly busy days.
“We’ve had a lot of time to prepare and our customers seem to know the routine,” Vala said.
Two attractions — the Graveyard Golf and Corn Jump area — will not be open this year due to smaller quarters than make it harder for families to social distance.
Though public safety efforts have closed those areas, the Vala family has still found ways to make new additions this fall.
A Pumpkin Lights trail, featuring a giant spider and cat made of pumpkins, illuminates the night sky near the Haunted Farmhouse.
Young artists can now display their work on the Chalk Truck, located near the Li’l Farmers Play Area. The 1961 truck — similar to those that would have delivered dairy products in the 1950s and ‘60s — is covered with chalkboard paint and the truck interior is open for play as well.
A new photo opportunity, near Freya’s Chicken Yard, features a field of zinnias in full bloom.
The Stalk Car Speedway for children under 8 has quadrupled in size, with more plasma cars added for toddlers and preschoolers. Another area for preschoolers, Li’l Farmer Hoppers, has been added to the Orchard Play Area, where children can bounce around on their favorite farm animal.
Smaller additions have been made to various farm attractions, including basketball and Roller Bowler games added to the Barnyard Sports Area.
“We’re really appreciative to be open this year more than ever,” Vala said. “We think people will appreciate coming out and having a fun thing to do.”
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