This weekend, visitors to Bloomfield Farms' u-pick event will not only be able to pick their own certified organic produce, but plant it as well! Bloomfield Farms was selected to help grow the heirloom squash, pumpkins, and gourds for the giant tower of vegetables at this year's National Heirloom Exposition at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds.
Families visiting the for u-pick on Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, can help plant these heirloom seeds (contributed by the Petaluma Seed Bank and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). Then, come back in the fall to see how they've grown and pick a pumpkin, gourd, or squash (nature permitting, one per customer).
As usual, you'll also find a variety of great organic produce, including, kale, lettuce, chard, artichokes, leeks, broccoli, and more. We hear their new strawberry patch is in full swing now, too. Also, Chef John Lyle will be on hand again this Sunday for a "pay-what-you-can" Farm Fun Brunch. If you haven't been to u-pick yet this is a great weekend to check it out.
U-pick time is almost here! Starting April 14, Bloomfield Farms will be open on Sundays for you and your kids to not only see where your food comes from, but to pick your own seasonal organic produce, too! This certified organic family farm is located in the rolling hills west of Petaluma, and it's a short scenic drive from anywhere in Marin. It's a lot of fun, and at $30 for a large box of vegetables, it's a great deal, too.
This year, the farm has plenty of new activities and events in store, including a farm stand featuring farm-made products and plant starts for your own garden, and visits from local chefs, musicians, and artists. There will even be a strawberry patch later on this spring and pumpkins and other heirloom squash this fall.
The Collins Family, general manager Nick Papadopoulos, and the staff at the farm are warm and welcoming and happy to help and explain about the different crops growing at the farm.
This time of year always has a way of making us long for the warm days of spring and summer. And of course with those thoughts of warm months come dreams of our spring and summer vegetable garden!
For the last couple of years, we've really made an effort to put in a substantial vegetable garden in our backyard. The children love to help pick out the seeds, plant them, water the plants, and pick the vegetables (and eat them, too), so it's a fun, educational, and tasty, experience for them. While last summer's cooler than normal weather made for mixed results, we had enough success to make us want to do it all over again this year.
Our first task of the season is always to go get our seeds. We always go the heirloom route—they're so much more fun than your plain old (ahem) garden variety vegetables—and we buy our seeds at the Petaluma Seed Bank, the West Coast outpost of the fantastic Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri. They stock a vast array of seeds for a wide variety of vegetables, many of which you probably didn't know existed.
In case you're not familiar with heirloom vegetables, they're the old-fashioned types, usually at least 50 years old, that have been handed down from generation to generation, and exist not because they are easy to grow or look perfect, but because they taste great! Baker Creek's seeds are also all natural, open-pollinated, and non-GMO, so they're good for your family and the environment.
Yesterday we made our annual trek to the Tolay Fall Festival at Tolay Lake Regional Park outside of Petaluma. The festival, held over two long weekends in October, is the successor to the popular pumpkin patch held at the site's former incarnation as Cardoza Ranch. Tolay Fall Festival is much more than a pumpkin patch, however. It's a down-to-earth celebration of fall with tons of fun activities for the whole family, and one of our favorite fall happenings in the Bay Area. It's a fantastic autumn event that has plenty to do for kids of all ages.
Of course there's a pumpkin patch—it's huge and located way out in the back 40 of the park, and you need to take a tractor-drawn hay ride to get there. But there are also plenty of other other attractions, exhibits, and hands-on activities. Our children enjoyed making old-fashioned corn husk dolls, carding wool, spinning yarn, and dipping candles.
There's also an animal area with the opportunity to pet some friendly donkeys and goats, scarecrow-making, a world championship pumpkin-seed-spitting contest, lawn games, a giant straw maze, a demonstration of old farm equipment and early gas engines, a firefighting display, archery for all ages, an astronomy display, a Native American village, and more.
McClelland's Dairy, a family-run certified organic dairy located just west of Petaluma, is a relative newcomer to the North Bay pumpkin patch circuit. Actually, that's only partly true—they last had a pumpkin patch on the farm a decade ago, and decided last year to revive this October tradition.
Compared to other pumpkin patches around Petaluma, McClelland's is a low-key affair, but that doesn't mean it isn't a lot of fun. It's just a slower, gentler fun.
Keep an eye out for their signs as you head down Bodega Road into the Two Rock area west of Petaluma. Turn into the dirt driveway and follow over a little bridge to the dairy farm. On your left you'll see a three-acre pumpkin field where you're welcome to go hunt for that perfect Halloween pumpkin.
In addition to u-pick pumpkins, there's a small bounce house, a hay maze, a big box full or oat seeds (perfect for digging—buckets and shovels provided) and a pen where you can meet some gentle and friendly farm animals, including goats, calves, a bunny, and chicks. Don't miss the large arrangement of pumpkins, squash, gourds, and straw bales—it's perfect for a family photo op.
Many families in Marin and the North Bay have fond memories of visiting the popular pumpkin patch at Cardoza Ranch outside Petaluma. In 2005, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department acquired Cardoza Ranch, also known as Tolay Lake Ranch, turning its 1,737 acres of farmland into a county park.
Tolay Lake Ranch is a unique spot, with a freshwater lake, wetlands, diverse wildlife, and 8,000 years human habitation with extensive archaeological and historical sites. Tolay Lake Regional Park is currently under development and access is restricted, although the public can now make use of the park through a day-use permit program.
However, I'm sure what's on many people's minds is "What happened to the pumpkin patch?" The Sonoma Regional Parks Department has kept the spirit of the old Cardoza pumpkin patch alive by holding the annual Tolay Fall Festival, now in its seventh year. This popular event takes place over two long weekends in October; the Tolay Fall Festival 2012 happensThursday–Sunday, October 11–14 and Wednesday–Sunday October 17–21. The Festival is open on weekdays from 9 am–3 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am–5 pm.
One of our favorite local pumpkin patches is the annual Peter Pumpkin Patch at Spring Hill Farm, located just outside of Petaluma. Peter Pumpkin Patch is a classic old-time pumpkin patch that's kind of out in the middle of nowhere (which is part of the fun). It's on a real working farm that produces the yummy Spring Hill Jersey cheese that you may have seen in farmers' markets or stores around town.
We've been going there for over six years, and we've watched it grow in size and scope to be a major autumn production. Peter Pumpkin Patch is also quite popular with our readers, as it was the runaway winner in our 2009 Pumpkin Patch Poll, and first runner up in the 2010 and 2011 polls.
Peter Pumpkin Patch has plenty of pumpkins—you'll find pre-picked specimens in abundance, and a vast field of on-the-vine pick-it-yourself pumpkins, too. Wheelbarrows are available for you to haul your load back to the cash register. They also have Cinderalla pumpkins, and white, green, and other less traditional pumpkins, as well as gourds, squash, and more.
You can also dig your own potatoes in their potato field, where several different varieties are growing. Tools, bags, and some potato digging pointers are provided. It's dirty, but fun.
The 2010 and 2011 winner of the Marin Mommies Pumpkin Patch Poll was the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch and Amazing Corn Maze. This is the big Halloween pumpkin patch that you see on the side of Highway 101 just north of the last Petaluma exit. You may even have been stuck in southbound traffic caused by rubberneckers slowing down to look at it.
Petaluma Pumpkin Patch, a Halloween fixture in Sonoma County since 1993, is popular for a number of reasons. For one, it's a real pumpkin patch that's not too far from civilization—it's off the North Bay's major freeway. Second, it offers a nice mix of real country attractions and other more commercial activities like bounce houses. Third, their pumpkin prices are really reasonable: from $1 for the smallest mini pumpkins to $15 and up for really large examples.
The entrance to their large parking lot is located off Stony Point Road just north of Petaluma. Keep your eyes open for the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch sign, because it can be easy to miss. When you first enter, you'll see that they offer a wide variety of squashes of all different types, including Hubbard, spaghetti, and turban squash, as well as ornamental gourds. There are some pre-picked pumpkins here, too, but you'll find most of them are off in the huge five-acre pumpkin field nearby.
If you've driven the stretch of Point Reyes–Petaluma Road between Novato and Petaluma lately, you've probably seen the signs for the farm stand in the barn near the entrance to Red Hill Ranch, just north of Novato Boulevard. We decided to check it out the other day and are glad we did!
Pull into the driveway and follow the signs directing you to the farm stand. Owner Kitty Dolcini offers a wide selection of fresh seasonal produce, free-range farm eggs, and grass fed beef at her small stand in on of the ranch's old barns. Much of her produce is grown on the ranch, which leases some of its land to County Line Harvest, a leading local organic producer. Other produce—like summer fruit—comes from quality growers elsewhere in Northern California.