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Tammy Swift, Published October 25 2009

Families brave cold to scour the pumpkin patch

It’s 44 degrees, the sky is gray, and everyone at the Dakota Carriage Pumpkin Patch is being soaked by a slow, stubborn drizzle.

And Elise Johnson couldn’t be happier.

The 4½-year-old grins radiantly beneath her pink floral fleece cap as she bounces along in a Clydesdale-drawn wagon beside her family and her good friend Nora Wendle Daub.

“I like the horsies,” says Elise, when asked what she enjoys most about her family’s annual trek to the pumpkin patch, located just northwest of Fargo.

“You like getting muddy, too, don’t you?” says dad Eric Johnson, stationed next to his wife, Kelly, and daughter Brooklyn, 17½ months, in the big, wooden wagon.

No amount of rain or gloomy skies Saturday could deter people from visiting the patch, run by Garfield and Mary Hoglund of Fargo and their daughter and son-in-law, Sari and Derik Kraft of Davenport.

The family attraction has grown so popular in its five years of operation that attendance is up 10 percent from last year – even though the fall’s weather has been so wet and cold that they’ve had to cover the pumpkins at night, Sari says. Derik estimates 800 people visited the farm last Sunday, “and it was almost chaos. But there were no complaints. Everyone was so happy to be out and the sun was shining.”

Says Sari: “It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I think we’re getting more and more known, just by word of mouth. Even when there was snow and little flurries, people were out here.”

Young families with kids under age 10 seem to be the key demographic at the Hoglund farm, which offers kid-centric fare such as pig races, miniature golf, a “not-too-spooky” haunted shed, barrel train rides, and straw-bale and corn mazes.

Other big attractions include a petting zoo and wagon rides to the pumpkin patch, guarded by a huge straw-bale “spider” with legs made from orange tubing.

Five-year-old Julian Walsvik couldn’t get enough of petting zoo star “Stubby,” a black-and-white Hereford bull who is gentle as a lamb and stands just 34 inches tall. Slightly overwhelmed by the bull’s sharp horns, Julian still wanted to reach through the fence and pat Stubby’s broad, curly forehead.

Julian says he also loved “the pumpkins – and the mud.” To prove it, he brandished a manly streak of mud down one side of his face.

Parents Jon and Rachelle Walsvik don’t mind. “We’re country farm kids,” Rachelle says, grinning. “So we’re not concerned at all.”

The Walsviks brought Julian here last year and were pleased by the reasonable prices, the amount of activities available and the friendly, family-run vibe.

“I’m an MSUM student, so it’s nice to be able to get out and do stuff with him,” says Jon.

That’s what makes it all worthwhile, says Derik, in between driving the Clydesdale team of CeCe and Rigley to the patch for the umpteenth time that day.

“It’s so fun to see parents actually get down and play with their kids,” he says, “versus throwing them in front of the TV or having them play video games.”

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525