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 in 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 story time 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 through 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.
First Presbyterian Church
5401 S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans
The church hosts its annual pumpkin patch fundraiser for its homeless outreach ministry, the Program of Hope, from Oct. 5 until whenever all the pumpkins are sold. Open weekdays, 3 p.m. to dusk; Saturday 10 a.m. to dusk; and Sunday 1 p.m. to dusk. Pumpkins range from 50 cents to $50. Call (504) 866-7409 or visit http://fpcno.org/pumpkin-patch for more information.
St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
2216 Metairie Road, Metairie
St. Martin’s hosts a pumpkin patch Oct. 1 through Oct. 31. Pumpkins for sale, from minis to jumbos. An area is decorated to take holiday photos, and each family receives a free brochure of pumpkin-carving tips and recipes. Patch hours are Monday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (dark) and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (dark). For more information, (504) 835-7357, www.stmepiscopal.com.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
6249 Canal Blvd., New Orleans
St. Paul’s has its annual pumpkin patch from Oct. 11 to Oct 31. Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pumpkin prices start from $5. Call (504) 488-3749 for more information.
Canal Place, 333 Canal St., New Orleans
Surgeons will be carving it up at Operation Pumpkin to benefit the Children’s Hospital at The Shops at Canal Place, 333 Canal St., on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call (504) 896-9373 or visit www.theshopsatcanalplace.com.
In the ‘Boo Carre’
The French Market is throwing an early Halloween Party, Boo Carre Halloween and Harvest Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Kids in costume will receive a complimentary trick or treat bag, plus there will be interactive craft booths, a petting zoo and live music. Pumpkins will be for sale. Visit www.frenchmarket.org/event/boo-carre-halloween-harvest-festival-3 for more information.
And farther afield...
LSU AgCenter Botanical Garden
4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge
Corn maze, hay rides, petting zoo and pumpkin painting every Saturday in October from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. $5 for 4 years and older. Night Maze and Bonfire will be on Saturday, Oct. 25 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. $10 for 4 and older. Call (225) 763-3990 or visit www.lsuagcenter.com/en/our_offices/research_stations/Burden/News/CornMaze2014.htm.
17834 River Road, Montz
Wagon rides on the hour and pumpkins aplenty at Perrilloux Farms, 17834 River Road, Montz. Open weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekdays by appointment only. $7 per person (children under 1 are free) and includes wagon ride and pumpkin. Call (985) 652-3672 for more information.
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 from Oct. 1 to Nov. 14, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Sundays. $7 per person (children under 2 are free) entry includes pumpkin. Call (985) 981-5788 or visit www.liuzzaland.com/Home/tabid/147/Default.aspx.