Heather Hughes believes that children are meant to spend time outdoors, getting their hands dirty by creating their own fun.

Generations of children fondly know Hughes as Miss Heather, the pumpkin patch lady.

Opening her farm outside of Hammond every October for the past 19 years, Hughes recreates a fall wonderland for children to explore: hay mazes, cow milking, zip lines, nature trails, pedal tractors — or children can simply roam among the pumpkins in search of the perfect jack-o’-lantern.

“It is all to educate the kids, because kids don’t play outside (any more),” said Hughes. “I do a storytime with the kids; we go through the different phases of growing a pumpkin. I talk to them about the cotton and how it grows. A lot of them think that cotton candy is made from cotton.”

Having grown up on a dairy farm in Loranger, Hughes and her husband of 28 years, Trey Hughes, have been working the land in the Hammond area — switching from dairy to cattle farming. They stumbled upon the pumpkin patch idea when their children were small.

“After planting a few pumpkins we talked to the county agents about what we were going to do with them, where we would market them,” said Heather Hughes. “They suggested we do a field trip because schools are always looking for places to come. We started small, and it just keeps growing every year.”

These days, the Hughes family can’t grow enough pumpkins to keep up with demand. Every year up to 20,000 pumpkins are shipped in, ensuring that each child gets to take home at least one.

During the week, two to eight school groups drop in every day to learn about farm life and fresh produce. On weekends, cars line up for blocks waiting to get in. Many families come for the photo op among the hay and pumpkins, others come to find a special gourd to carve.

“Children walk in that pumpkin patch, and they will pick them up and look ... and you will see them put it down and keep looking. They have to find that perfect pumpkin,” Hughes said.

Miss Heather’s Pumpkin Patch, 11215 Lee’s Lane, Hammond, is open Sept. 23-Nov. 3, Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Entry is $7 per child which includes a pumpkin. Adults are free. For information call (225) 567-3493 or visit www.thfarms.com.

OTHER PUMPKINS

LSU Ag Center Botanical Garden

4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge

Corn maze, hay rides, petting zoo and pumpkin painting 4 p.m.-7 p.m. every Saturday in October. $5 for 4 years and older. Night Maze and Bonfire will be 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. $10 for 4 and older. Call (225) 763-3990 or visit http://www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/research_stations/Burden/News/CornMaze2014.htm.

St. Francis Episcopal Church

726 Maple Drive, Denham Springs

Visitors can choose from more than 40,000 pounds of pumpkins at the patch, which runs Oct. 12-31. For more information, call

(225) 665-2707.

Liuzza Produce Farm

56457 Holden Circle, Amite

Scarecrows, bridges and dead ends occupy children for hours in the corn maze at Liuzza Produce Farm. Pick pumpkins right off the vine or choose a pre-picked one from the pumpkin patch. Open Oct. 1-Nov. 14, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays. $7 per person (children under 2 are free); entry includes pumpkin. Call (985) 981-5788 or visit http://www.liuzzaland.com.