Lemont residents looking to get in the Halloween spirit this fall need only to find their way to 131st Street and Bell Road.
Puckerville Farms, which has been growing and selling pumpkins for 20 years, has expanded its offerings to include hayrides, bonfires and family fun through October 31.
Unlike many pumpkin farms in the area, which have slowly morphed into amusement parks, Puckerville has remained true to its roots as a family farm. Owner Rick Homerding grows a wide variety of gourds and unique varieties of pumpkins on the five acres of property he leases behind his home.
Business has been so good that he’s had to supplement his offerings with pumpkins purchased from other small Illinois farms, but at least half of what he sells is grown on site.
The property has been in Homerding’s family since 1875, when his ancestors grew corn and wheat on the 100 acres they owned. A small part of that original property has remained in the family ever since, but was not used to grow pumpkins until Homerding’s father came up with the idea in 1991.
“My dad saw all these people moving out here and said, ‘What can we do?’” Homerding said. “He decided to grow pumpkins.”
Homerding’s father, who was a heavy equipment operator by day, added pumpkins to his corn and bean crops and a new business was born. Homerding, a sandblaster and artist, wasn’t particularly interested in the farming business until a talk with his father shortly before his death.
“My dad said, ‘Look at the start I gave you in this business,’” Homerding recalled. “He died the next day. That’s what inspires me to keep this going.”
Keeping his father’s legacy going is important to Homerding, a life-long Lemont resident who lives on the property in the house he was born in.
He still grows or buys prize-winning pumpkins for the farm each year. In 2001, his father won first prize in a pumpkin contest, so Homerding took one from the farm to the 2002 competition just one week after his father died. He won second place.
The farm has gradually expanded its offerings to include corn stalks, straw bales, mums, firewood and other staples of the harvest season. In 2004, Homerding began selling Frasier Fir trees at Christmastime as well.
In addition to items for sale, families can find swings, a slide and coin-operated rides. Visitors may even catch sight of a black kitten or two, which were born in Puckerville’s barn just in time for Halloween. There is no admission fee, but hayrides are offered for $3 per person on weekends.
After several good experiences playing host to private events such as his high school reunion, Homerding has also begun offering group bonfires and hayrides as well.
The economy hasn’t affected business much, so Homerding hopes to expand the farm’s offerings to include a corn maze or petting zoo in the future. “People still come with their kids — that’s what life is all about,” he says.
Customers browsing in Puckerville’s shop may also find examples of Homerding’s sandblasting restoration and art work. He displays old wood stoves that have been beautifully restored in addition to a wide range of hand-painted items and stained glass.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to have [the farm] because it keeps me occupied,” Homerding said. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the relationships I’m building with people.”
Puckerville Farms, 13332 Bell Road, is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through October 31, and reopens for Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving through December 24.