- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - If you’re speeding down Wire Road in Auburn, you might not notice it. But those looking for Farmer in the Dell Pumpkin Patch would be hard pressed to miss the 20-acre farm with its sprawling pumpkin vines, radiant sunflower patch and colorful sign.

Auburn’s Farmer in the Dell Pumpkin Patch, which began as a way to help two Auburn University students pay for school, has grown into a popular fall destination.

For the Foshee family, which owns and operates the farm, the patch is a place for friends and family to gather, enjoy the slowly dropping temperatures and simply be outside.

Offering all things fall from hay rides to playful farm animals like Willie, a 3-week-old miniature goat, the patch has brought an outdoor experience to Auburn for the last nine years. Many come to pick pumpkins, which are sold by the pound, and take fall photos with the tractors and sunflowers.

New to the patch, attendees this year can look forward to a caution-tape maze and a mound of dirt equipped with ropes for climbing and play.

The pumpkin patch also takes reservations for day care trips, school field trips, birthday parties and other events throughout October. Marie Foshee, who has taken over day-to-day operations of the farm which was started by her sons Mark and Luke, said her favorite part about the pumpkin patch is seeing the kids enjoy themselves outdoors.

“They love the animals,” Foshee said, remembering last year’s pig that was constantly chased by children and college students. One student spent three hours trying to catch the pig.

Many have also made a visit to the pumpkin patch a family tradition. One family travels to the patch each year from Atlanta. Another comes each year searching for the largest pumpkin, which topped out at 80 pounds last year. And another family traveled to the patch as soon as their son was released from Children’s of Alabama hospital.

The Farmer in the Dell Pumpkin Patch became part of the Foshee family tradition in 2007, when brothers Mark and Luke Foshee were looking for a way to make some money. Equipped with family land and a background in farming from their father, the two stumbled upon the idea while watching TV one night.

“We were literally flipping around on TV, and that was right about the time that show ‘Little People, Big World’ came out, and we were like, ‘Duh,’” said Mark Foshee, remembering the show that chronicled the lives of a pumpkin-patch owning family.

The brothers immediately began researching growing pumpkins in the south, which they soon discovered was difficult.

“So that kind of spurred us on even more,” Mark Foshee said. “We’re just hard-headed and stubborn enough to try stuff like that.”

After about a year of researching and planning and creating the right conditions for the pumpkins to grow, the two opened the pumpkin patch with just pumpkins and a hay ride. They enjoyed the first year and decided to keep it going, and it has grown each year since. Two years ago, the patch outgrew its home on Alabama 14 in Loachapoka and relocated to the land on Wire Road.

After graduating and moving on from the patch, the students passed the main operations of the farm over to their mother, Marie Foshee, who has carried the brunt of the work along with student workers.

“It really meant a lot to me and my brother,” Mark Foshee said about his mother’s decision to help carry the patch on. “And now we know, for fall, that’s the meeting place where we come into town, we know that’s where we go. On the weekends and stuff we get to hang out and see friends and family and stuff. It was really cool to see that carry on. Although that’s not my day-to-day anymore, maybe one day I’ll retire and get back into it or something.”

For Mark Foshee, his favorite part of the patch reflects his mother’s: it’s always been the smiles.

“It’s about this time every year that I just start smiling remembering all the funny little inside stories,” Mark said. “Watching kids running around, chasing chickens, chasing pigs - to see that wonder in a little kids’ eyes - for me being at the age I am, I feel like I’ve lost that, ‘Oh my gosh,’ kind of sensation of seeing something like that for the first time. That sense of wonder that those kids have, that’ll always stand out to me.”

The pumpkin patch has recently gained recognition and was listed on the Blog for Lifestyle & Travel’s “25 Pumpkin Patches in Alabama You Need to Visit This Fall.”

The pumpkin patch will be open through October, and admission is free. For more information or hours of operation, visit www.farmerinthedellpumpkinpatch.com.

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/

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