Great pumpkins!: Pumpkin season brings Nevada County folks out to local farms |

Great pumpkins!: Pumpkin season brings Nevada County folks out to local farms

Now in its second year, McCourtney Road Pumpkins offers old time fun. Upwards of 3,000 pumpkins were grown for the pumpkin patch at McCourtney Road Pumpkins this year.
Submitted photo/Laura Petersen |

Know & GO

Bierwagens Donner Trail Fruit is open noon to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

McCourtney Road Pumpkins is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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From downtown Grass Valley, cheerful hand-painted signs mark the way to McCourtney Road Pumpkins. Along Highway 174, the pumpkin patch at Bierwagen’s Donner Trail Fruit is open seven days a week.

It’s harvest season and farms along country drives in Nevada County are attracting families who want a day to slow down and step back to a simpler time.

Meanwhile, it’s the busiest time of year for farmers, like Chris Bierwagen who spent Monday morning giving a group of 100 school kids from Auburn a tour of the farm. Each October, busloads of 1,500 school children visit the Chicago Park farm.

The Bierwagens are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for pumpkins and fresh pressed apple cider. It’s not uncommon for people to buy a wagon full of pumpkins and fall decorations like corn stalks and gourdes, spending upwards of $100. Since 1991, the Bierwagen pumpkin patch has been a staple of the season.

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” said Chris Bierwagen.

With more than just pumpkins, the on-site farm market sells jam, apple butter, apple cider and fresh picked apples such as Empire, Golden Delicious, Wine Sap, Red Rome, Arkansas Black, and Granny Smith. In the yard, kids can check out ducks, chickens, turkeys, baby goats and pigs and “Leroy” the long horned steer.

New this year, is tractor pulled farm tours through the apple and peach orchards to visit the Dinner Bell Farm pigs that forage under the trees.

“They get to ride out to the open space and learn about the trees and baby pigs,” said Bierwagen.

Direct farm visits like a pumpkin patch are considered agritourism, an idea the Bierwagens have explored in a variety of ways: a farm stand, restaurant, summer catered dinners in the orchard and Christmas tree sales in December. Someday, they hope to be an event venue for gatherings like weddings and offer farm stays in vacant rooms at the family farmhouse.

Now in their second year, word of mouth is the best form of advertisement for McCourtney Road Pumpkins, a family and friend run operation.

After his parents purchased a 90-acre ranch several years ago, Andy Barhydt and his wife Stacey hatched a seasonal agritourism idea — a pumpkin patch — that they could incorporate into their existing cattle operation.

They researched bigger theme-park style pumpkin patches in the valley before settling on a simpler format.

“We wanted to be an old time traditional farm. We wanted to get back to basics,” said Stacey Barhydt.

A steady stream of visitors came to the farm last weekend for a rural experience — to go for a hayride, play games, dig in the sand pile, eat a picnic in the sun, buy honey and search for the ideal pumpkin in the field where it was grown.

This year the patch has grown from just under an acre to just over an acre with 3,000 pumpkins to choose from.

Besides pie pumpkins and typical jack-o-lanterns, customers can choose from Cinderella pumpkins, Long Island Cheese varieties (looks like a wheel of cheese) and 1,000 ornamental gourdes.

“I really wanted to give people a variety,” said Andy Barhydt.

If he doesn’t sell out by Halloween, Barhydt will open a roadside stand for Thanksgiving pumpkins.

Though not certified organic, Barhydt does not spray or use chemical fertilizers on his crops. He makes his own compost and uses beneficial insects, like ladybugs to control pests like aphids.

Truly a family run operation, Andy and Stacey Barhydt get help from a dozen family and friends during this busy time of year.

Known by locals as the old Loney Ranch, the picturesque property with an old 1935 barn and expansive views is protected under the Williamson Act. Neighbors have shown support for the pumpkin patch and some have expressed relief that the farm that was for sale on the real estate market for a long time will not be subdivided for a housing development.

“Our plan is to keep it open space,” said Andy Barhydt.

Barhydt is a local boy and was born and raised on Wolf Road where he grew up around cattle. He left Nevada County to go off to college and upon receiving an Agricultural Education degree from Fresno State returned home. Once here, Barhydt enrolled in a beginning farming academy led by University of California Cooperative Extension. Earlier this month, his farm was the showcase of a Sierra Harvest potluck.

Even though it’s hard work and sometimes emergencies like aphid infestations or escaped cows can raise the stress level, Andy Barhydt loves the farming life. He prefers the quiet hours “with the land” planting, weeding and irrigating over the strain of a 9 to 5 job with deadlines and hovering bosses.

He says he finds joy in knowing that he is giving local families quality alternative time together away from electronic devices.

“I think that’s great for people to get back outside, in the sunshine. We need to get people off their couches,” he said.

Freelance writer Laura Petersen can be reached at 913-3067 or

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