- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

Butler’s Orchard — home to an annual pumpkin festival during October weekends — is in Germantown, less than an hour from downtown Washington. Yet the 300 acres full of orchards and fields of red raspberries and pumpkins feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

“That’s what we hope to provide — an oasis,” says Todd Butler, whose parents started the farm in the 1950s. Back then, it was fewer than 40 acres, but Mr. Butler and two of his siblings took over and expanded it.

“We’re always looking to add new things. We try to respond to what visitors want,” Mr. Butler says.

The farm offers opportunities to pick your own fruit, vegetables and berries in the summer and fall. During December, customers can cut their own Christmas trees.

The farm, however, goes beyond pick-your-own harvesting.

“We’re a working farm, but we’re also big into the ‘agritainment’ aspect,” Mr. Butler says. “Last year we added the slides, which are very popular,” he says of the tall, steep slides bordered by haystacks that are part of the pumpkin festival grounds. The grounds are open to all but are designed for families with children age 10 and younger.

Another recent addition is a pumpkin cannon, a contraption that shoots pumpkins 600 to 700 feet, Mr. Butler says.

“It’s very popular,” he says. “The pumpkins completely pulverize when they hit a tree.”

A popular festival activity is a hayride through fields and thick woods of oak, hickory and maple trees, all showing fall colors right about now.

On the grounds also are a hayloft barn, where young children can jump and tumble; a straw maze; pony rides; pedal tractors and trikes; playground equipment and wooden trains where children can climb; dozens of Pumpkinland characters, pumpkin heads with straw-man bodies; and animals. Butler’s doesn’t have livestock of its own but rents pigs, chickens, sheep and goats to showcase during the pumpkin festival.

“It’s mostly for fun, but we also want to take the opportunity to introduce kids to basic farm facts,” Mr. Butler says of the animals and the question-and-answer stations located next to them. The stations include these questions (answers are at the end of the story):

1. What do you call male and female chickens, respectively?

2. Why do pigs like mud?

3. What do you call male and female sheep, respectively?

4. Is a pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable?

5. How long does it take for a pumpkin to grow?

For those who want to pick their own pumpkins, there is a field packed with the bright orange fruits (oops …) right next to the festival grounds. Pumpkins, along with other fruits and vegetables, also are available at Butler’s market-country store, which also sells jams and jellies, cookbooks, cooking gadgets, homemade candy and Halloween-style knickknacks.

The grounds are open to all, but with the emphasis on fun activities for younger children, some are bound to feel left out. Some twentysomething visitors recently expressed disappointment in the relatively small and not-so-intricate corn maze.

“This is not the kind of corn maze that’s going to fry your brain while you’re trying to get out,” Mr. Butler says. “We’re not set up to do that here, and it’s not really what we’re trying to do.”

The customer still comes first in his mind, Mr. Butler says, and he ended up giving the disappointed corn mazers their money back.

“It’s all about making people happy,” he says. “If they go away happy, they’ll bring their friends and family. … I believe about 99 percent of our visitors go away happy.”

Quiz answers:

1. Male chickens are called roosters; females are called hens. 2. Mud protects pigs from insect bites and sunburn and keeps them cool. 3. Male sheep are called rams; females are called ewes. 4. It’s a fruit. 5. About 120 days from seed to pumpkin.

When you go:

Location: Butler’s Orchard is at 22200 Davis Mill Road in Germantown.

Directions: From the Beltway, take Interstate 270 north. Take Exit 16 toward Damascus. Merge onto Father Hurley Boulevard, which quickly becomes Ridge Road. After about a mile, make a right on Brink Road. Turn left on Wildcat Road. After about a mile, make a left onto Davis Mill Road. The orchard is on the left.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through October. Closed on Monday.

Parking: Parking lot is available.

Admission: $9 for visitors age 2 and older for the weekend pumpkin festival; $5.50 for visitors age 2 and older on weekdays, when some — but not all — pumpkin festival activities are available. During the festival, certain activities cost extra, including pony rides for $3 per ride. Pumpkins also are not included in the admission charge, but cost 49 cents a pound.

Information: 301/972-3299 or www.butlersorchard.com

Notes: Wear sturdy shoes. The grounds have plenty of picnic tables. Food, including barbecue and caramel apples, can be purchased on-site, but picnic lunches are allowed.

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