How to save a family farm
Posted by Gabriel Campanario
Sketched Oct. 11, 2011
Bob Ricci knew what to do with his family's farm after the purebred Holstein cows were sold and the dairy business shut down. He told his dad, a third-generation Snohomish farmer, that he would plant a corn maze and charge people to go through it.
His dad's reply: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Ten years later, Ricci's Villa farm is better known for Bob's corn maze and pumpkin patch than for the hay and horse-boarding business that also followed the closing of the dairy.
And Bob, now 38, keeps coming up with ideas: a trike track for kids, fire pits that can be rented for parties, and -- as a nod to the farm's past -- a little train painted like cows pulled by a tractor, a "cow-train."
The cornucopia of entertainment seemed a little overwhelming to me, but Bob had a good explanation: "This is how farms are surviving."
Hay ride: I squeezed into the tractor cabin to be able to do this sketch of Bob on a recent soggy morning. Bob was pulling a trailer carrying a happy group of about 30 school children and their families sitting on stacks of hay. After going through the corn maze, their next stop was the 20-acre pumpkin patch located further into the fields. Bob said the entire farm spreads over 280 acres.
Pumpkins galore: More than 28 varieties of pumpkins are grown at the patch, including Wee-Bee-Little, Cinderella, Howden and Cotton Candy, all names I had never heard of -- keep in mind that Halloween is not a holiday in my native country of Spain.
Growing up at the farm: Bob's entrepreneurial spirit goes back to his childhood. He told me that as a 9-year-old kid, he would sit by the road to sell sweetcorn just like other kids would sell lemonade. These days he goes to farm conventions around the country to learn new ways to make the farm prosper. At a meeting in California, for example, he learned about pumpkin cannons and he later bought one in Louisiana. The cannons, which are used to shoot discarded pumpkins up in the air just for the fun of it, are another amusement for thousands of visitors drawn to local farms during harvest season.
For more information on Snohomish County pumpkin patches visit Festival of Pumpkins dot org.
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