The owners of Farmer Ganyard at Upchurch Farm call their partnership a perfect match.
With land the Upchurch family has been farming since the Civil War, and the agritourisum expertise of Dr. Milton Ganyard, the new arrangement is yielding a bumper fall crop.
“I’ve been growing pumpkins for a long time, and Dr. Ganyard’s been growing them even longer,” said owner William Upchurch. “He’s the overall manager of agritourism, and his expertise is growing beautiful pumpkins.”
The fall activities make the farm a destination spot for children, adults and school groups. The adult-sized corn maze on 2 1/2 acres is full of twists and turns. Barnyard animals, a corn crib and Haystack Mountain are also popular draws.
But the pumpkins are the stars. The 39,000 pumpkins grown by Farmer Ganyard at Upchurch Farm this year is a personal best, said Ganyard, who relocated his operations from Durham to the Cary farm.
“This is by far the best crop of pumpkins I have ever had,” Ganyard said. “I’m willing to make anyone a bet that there has never been a pumpkin crop that big in the Triangle area.”
One field is dedicated to what Ganyard calls his weird and exotic pumpkins.
“A few years ago, I discovered people liked the odd pumpkins,” he said. “A lot of them are plain weird and some are from other countries. That’s where the word ‘exotic’ comes in. It’s not a go-go dancer out there.”
Ganyard, a retired scientist, has been in agritourism for 21 years. He says the stress of farming is nothing like that of the corporate world.
“I would say 99 percent of the people who come here are happy when they leave,” he said. “That changes the stress situation. They are telling you how much they appreciate what you do.”
A visit to Upchurch Farm is not the same as going to most seasonal pumpkin patches in the area. Here, picking out a pumpkin means plucking it directly from the vine.
“That’s what made me unique,” Ganyard said. “I grow them. A lot of farms call themselves a pumpkin farm to customers who don’t know the difference.”
Growing pumpkins in the South is a feat in itself.
“The climate is too hot,” he said. “Pumpkins have never been bred in the hot South. I didn’t give up. I kept after it. I’ve learned a lot about how to grow pumpkins and I’m willing to teach other farmers.”
This season there was the added challenge of heavy rains in early October when the farm was scheduled to open to the public.
“It was the worst possible year to have a record rain event,” Ganyard said. “We’re still in transition and we’re nowhere near where we’d like to be. … But we are getting it done. One day we didn’t have a hayride and a corn maze and we learned how important that was.”
The delayed start means there will be plenty of pumpkins for weeks to come. Upchurch said visitors will be welcome though mid-November.
At 72, Ganyard knows his farming days will eventually come to an end.
“The important thing is the legacy that goes with this farm and the fact that the Upchurches want to continue that for a long time,” he said. “This is a 165-acre farm that wants to stay a farm.”
But don’t count on Farmer Ganyard hanging up his hat anytime soon, Upchurch said.
“Once we get people through the entrance, you’ll find him walking across the fields talking to families, meeting and greeting,” he said. “That’s what he loves to do more than anything else.”