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Big changes at Meandher Creek Farm's Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch owners make difficult decision, but there's a Plan B

Oak Lake’s unique fall attraction, Meandher Creek Farm Pumpkin Patch located on the Podobni family farm, won’t be re-opening this Fall.

This agri-tourism business located near Hwy One was known to register some 12,000 visitors during their 17-day Fall season with as many as 2,000 visitors on a good day.

The Pumpkin Patch was a family destination in Westman, where kids of all ages could be actively engaged in cheering on racing piglets. Horse-drawn hayrides, climbing opportunities, a learning centre, and of course pumpkin treats – all this and more was available on the roomy grounds where you could find people from just about anywhere in Canada and sometimes even further afield.

This family owned and operated feature first opened in 2006 and ran continuously until the fall of 2020 when gatherings were put on hold throughout most of the world.

This year, Don and Judy Podobni, son Logan, and wife Tannis made the decision that after two years of being closed due to COVID-19, if ever there was a time for a change, this was it.

Val Podobni, their son Morgan’s wife, also pitched in as one of the Pumpkin Patch’s 30 part-time adult and youth employees in the Fall season.

Judy said, “It gave the kids the opportunity to work, part-time. Lots of them, it was their first job. As Tanis and I said, it was almost a rite of passage, they got to work at the Pumpkin Patch. Of course, we employed all our grandchildren there, which was great.”

Podobni, noticed their young workers developed a sense of responsibility and people skills. “The kids picked pumpkins, and then they learned to interact with the public at the attractions they were (assigned to).”

In the early days, the Podobni’s neighbour Louise Stitt encouraged their vision and worked alongside to make it happen until 2016 when she retired from it.

While this was an immensely satisfying venture it required a big coordinated effort. In January, plans were laid for developing new attractions to be built over the summer, along with the general upkeep.

“We’d start in January with our planning. What fields are we going to plant, what kind of pumpkins are we going to plant? In May we’d be planting. You had to start watering immediately as soon as the seeds were in the ground.”

The water was hauled to the 15 acres of pumpkins from nearby dugouts. If the patch had been running last year, Judy says, “We’d have been hooped because we had no dugouts that had water in them.”

Pumpkins were picked at the end of August in preparation for the Fall opening.

The bale pyramid of 250 round bales was brought in every year. It took over two days to build it, creating the tunnels throughout.

“And then we had our eight weekends that we were open and it was all weather dependent. Trust me! The last two years, 2018 and 2019, we had horrible season weather-wise. Then we were nailed with Covid, and we were closed.”

This was a labour of love. The reward - the people who came.

Reminiscing, Judy says, “The little kids not wanting to leave at the end of the day. They were so tired and the parents would say, ‘come on we’ve got to go.’ And that was always what we hoped it would be. Families… doing things together.”

There were memorable treats for sale at the confectionary. Tannis’ specialty was the pumpkin pie and the pumpkin cake.

It was a difficult decision to end the Pumpkin Patch. Judy recounts, “In January I started bringing it up, and everybody would groan and say ‘lets just not talk about it right now.’ We had to do a lot of soul searching and a lot of discussion and finally just said, ‘If we’re going to do it, this is when we’re going to do it, because it’s already been closed for two years.”

However, these dreamers and doers have a new plan in the works for the location.

“What we’re planning is still offering it for weddings, anniversaries, reunions, birthdays. So that’s what we’ll do because the infrastructure is all there.”

The first solid plans for the summer include a meal the Sunday before Virden Collegiate graduation ceremony. With two grandchildren graduating it will include the grads’ special friends and family members.

It looks like Meandher Creek Farm will continue to be a gathering place, just different.