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Channahon, Minooka pumpkin farms prepared for fall season ahead

The quaint, quiet villages of Minooka and Channahon lie nestled within trees, rivers, rolling hills and fields.

This area offers many natural places for residents to explore and two family favorites open each September.

Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm in Minooka and Dollinger Family Farm in Channahon have deep family roots in their areas and have created a place for people young and old to enjoy to create lifelong memories.

Dollinger Family Farm sits just south of Minooka on Hansel Road, tucked behind a grove of trees that used to be sold as wood lots to settlers who would then cut trees from their lot and use it to warm their homes.

Now, the farm grows a variety of pumpkins and gourds, as well as offers hay rack rides, a corn bin for children, a train for the younger crowd, a teepee filled with typical Native American tools, a play area with a pirate ship, tiny houses, a wooden fire truck and straw bales. A geometric corn maze sits at the foothills and has five stations participants have to find in order to complete the maze.

Owner Noreen Dollinger said the farm has added gourmet coffee and fresh doughnuts to its menu of fudge and candy apples. A milk barn offers gifts as well as local honey, jams and salsas.

To add to the pumpkin farm fun, Dollinger has arranged for a remote-control car competition on parts of the farm landscaped by rivers, trees and rocks. A group out of Indiana called NWI TCC will come out with its cars and showcase what they can do.

Creator Matt Brauer said they use 1/10-scale remote control rock crawler tough trucks. The event is open to the public to watch and those with the same type of vehicles are welcome to register and pay a $20 fee to enter the competition, where prizes will be given.

Dollinger said she wants the people who come to the farm to learn about the history of the area, so on Oct. 7-8, the grounds will be taken over by Revolutionary War soldiers and families, as well as Oct. 21-22, the Civil War troops take charge of the land and re-create a time none of us have experienced. Guests can interact with the soldiers, families, doctors and clergy.

Also in October, the Big Run Wolf Ranch will showcase and teach about native animals and Scott Cochrane of Northern Exposure Chain Saw Sculpting will show how he takes a log and makes art.

“We are all about education. We like to share things about history, where we are now and where we are going,” Dollinger said.

The farm opens Sept. 18, closes Oct. 30 and has free admission to walk on the farm. There is a cost for some of the extra activities. On Oct. 29, children are welcome to dress up in their costumes and trick or treat on the farm. Dollinger said there will be treats all over the farm for the children to find.

“We are here so people can have a tradition. We have been around for a long time and we have kids now coming with their kids, its fun to participate in that aspect,” Dollinger said.

Just a few miles north lies Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm off of Route 52. The Heap family has farmed the land for generations, began selling its pumpkins in the front yard of their home for 15 years and then, eight years ago, Kevin Heap had a vision to turn the family farm into a place for families to enjoy and learn about farming.

Kaylee Heap, Kevin’s wife, now works on the family farm during pumpkin season. The farm opens to the public Sept. 9 and closes on Halloween. Kaylee said the farm boasts the feeling of a real working farm.

“People can get a little dirt on their shoes and pick their own pumpkin. We try to get as close to a farm experience as possible,” Kaylee said.

Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm grows 90 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash and has them all for sale as well as mums and fall décor. Heap’s also sells giant pumpkins.

Admission is free to get onto the farm, and people can purchase tickets individually to events, which Kaylee said, makes it affordable because people can pick and choose. There are no paved roads or gimmicks here, just a fun barn filled with straw and corn bins for the little ones to crawl and play, animals, two pirate ships to climb and a large castle large enough for adults to play with their children

During the day, the corn maze with a rooster design, challenges participants with stops along the way. At night, monsters take over and lurk in the haunted corn maze. Kaylee said the haunted corn maze is for those ages 12 years and older.

The smaller children can partake in a flashlight corn maze, monsters excluded.

If hunger strikes, pork burgers from Clearview Pork Farm in Morris and beef burgers from Wheeler Farms in Yorkville and Berg Farms in Minooka are on the menu as well as pumpkin cookies.

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