By Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News
It wasn't all play on this brisk autumn morning.
Before picking their own pumpkin from the patch or running through a sorghum maze or racing pedal carts on a dirt track, this group of Buhler Grade School students got a quick lesson.
Growing pumpkins isn't necessarily easy. And pumpkins don't just appear in the store.
At P&M Pumpkin Ranch near Moundridge, operators Jamie and Tim Kaminkow are determined to go beyond just giving kids an opportunity to pluck pumpkins, the Hutchinson News reports.
In a world where those involved in production agriculture make up 2 percent of the population, the Kaminkows saw an opportunity to turn their little McPherson County farm into a fall destination and allow their visitors to reconnect to their agricultural roots.
On Tuesday, first-graders sat in a metal shed turned classroom learning about the growth cycle of a pumpkin, the different varieties and the effort it takes to grow pumpkins.
When school let out for the summer, Jamie Kaminkow told the kids that she and her husband and their two daughters, Paityn, 10, and Macy, 7, planted 8,000 pumpkin seeds across five acres. They spent the summer weeding and caring for their crop.
It was all in preparation for the nearly 1,000 school kids who will trek through their farm this fall, along with the countless families yearning for a trip to the country.
Jamie Kaminkow recalled the comments from county officials when she and her husband presented them with their plan for the acreage.
"They said how excited they were that we were providing a place for city kids to come to the farm," she said.
For two seasons, the Kaminkows have opened their farm to the masses. Along the banks of Turkey Creek, kids can feed fish in the pond and roast marshmallows over an open fire. They can climb to the top of a mound of earth and slide through it on a sled. There is a nature trail along the creek, a cart track to race on, a petting zoo and a barrel train, along with a giant jumping pad and a sorghum maze.
Most importantly, families can scramble through five acres of pumpkins and pluck a favorite.
"Our reasons for starting this were threefold," Jamie Kaminkow said. "We wanted a way to generate income from home; we wanted to give back what God has given to us; and we wanted to teach our girls the value of hard work."
The couple, who have an erosion control business, always wanted to get back into farming. Jamie grew up on a farm near Inman and Tim helped his parents on their Maryland Christmas tree farm.
They began researching pumpkin varieties and formulating a plan — naming the patch after their children. Besides typical orange pumpkins, the couple also planted specialty pumpkins, including white and pink ones. In all, they have 50 different varieties of pumpkins and gourds, Jamie Kaminkow said.
And it isn't easy. It is hard work — and a lot of it — especially since their season lasts just five or six weeks.
It's part of what they try to get through to the students, said Kaminkow. Older classes play a game where they are operating their own farm. But like any farm, the teams get a loan from the bank and are faced with roadblocks, whether it is the expense of spraying for bugs on their cucumber plants or losing everything after a hailstorm comes through and damages the entire crop.
"Whoever has the most cash wins," Kaminkow said, but added she stresses "that doesn't mean they are better farms than the other team."
It's a short season, but it is worth it, Kaminkow said. By Nov. 1, thousands will have trekked through P&M Pumpkin Ranch's gates, enjoying the changing fall colors and, for these Buhler first-graders, a simple class in Agriculture 101.
The pumpkin patch's educator, Rachel Ediger, talked to the students about how a pumpkin grows and develops — from bees pollinating the flowers to the day they are ripe for the plucking, with the students marching to the patch to find a pumpkin after the morning lesson.
"Look at my pumpkin," exclaimed Reyne Kaufman, who hoisted her orange sphere up for her teacher, Christine Schletzbaum, to see.
Schletzbaum said she had prepared the students for the field trip beforehand by reading about pumpkins. The class won't take its pumpkins home just yet, she added. They will stay in the classroom one more day so her class can use them during math time.
"I like that they have so much for (the kids) to learn and do here," she said.
She watched as her students rode sleds down the earth tunnel slide. A few were playing in a corn pile. Others were riding carts around the track.
"I don't have a license, but anyway, I'm a good driver," yelled Addy Tech as she pedaled ahead of the rest of the pack.
Parent Justin Gray, of Hutchinson, said he brought his son, Jerrick, to the patch last year and enjoyed it. The family gardens, he said, but they aren't around farming much.
"He loves being out here," Gray said, adding that for the class, "It's good to get the kids out here."
Jamie Kaminkow said it is a blessing to see how the farm has grown in just two short years and all the people who are enjoying it. She noted a question posed by one class — about why her family chose pumpkins.
She reflected for a moment before answering.
"We didn't choose pumpkins," she said at last. "They chose us."