October 11, 2021 at 5:57 p.m.
“We’re fortunate to be in a heavily populated area,” Brian said. “We planted five acres last year, and they cleaned the field right out.”
Brian and Elizabeth milk 55 cows and farm 320 acres near West Bend. The hospital across the road from their farm serves as a large customer base for the Peterses’ pumpkin business.
“We grow the odd and unique stuff,” Brian said. “That’s what sells. I like pumpkins and gourds with different colors, stripes, and warts more than I like the orange ones. Don’t get me wrong, an orange pumpkin is fantastic, but I like color. I also like big monster gourds.”
Brian is the fifth generation at Maple Woods Dairy Farm, which has been in his family since 1888. Passionate for pumpkins, the Peterses have sold the produce for the past 15 years with payment being made through an honor system.
“We’re busy farming and can’t be out there all the time, so this is a nice system,” Brian said. “There’s always the right amount of money in there.”
With a pumpkin to please anyone’s taste, the farm’s fresh-from-the-field pumpkins come in a variety of interesting colors, including yellow, white, green, pink, blue, red and traditional orange. Brian said they also sell a lot of squash. Their outdoor store also includes Indian corn and mums bought from local growers as well as maple syrup Brian and Elizabeth make in the spring. Brian also makes small bales of straw to sell as décor.
“A friend of my dad’s grew pumpkins and asked if I’d be interested in buying them wholesale to resell,” Brian said. “That’s how we got into it. We jumped in wholeheartedly and then some.”
After getting their daughters, Vivian, 8, and Morgan, 6, ready for school and on the bus, the couple went to the barn to start chores around 7:30. Brian fed cows corn silage and grain before he and Elizabeth began milking at 8 a.m. When they were about two-thirds done, Elizabeth left to feed calves and heifers. After milking, she washed bottles, and Brian cleaned up in the milkhouse. Elizabeth also gave milk and dry food to the farm’s five cats.
Around 10:15, Brian and Elizabeth loaded pigs housed at a neighbor’s farm about a mile away to take to Gehrings Meat Market in St. Lawrence.
“The last eight of the year are going today,” said Brian, who sells quarters and halves of beef and pork through private sale.
The Peterses sell about 30 pigs per year – a niche business they started nine years ago – and about 10 animals per year for beef. In addition, they provide 6,000 small bales of hay for the horse market along with some big bales as well.
“We’re diversified because in my opinion, it’s one of the few ways a smaller farm can survive,” Brian said.
Pigs on the Peters family farm are fed everything from waste milk to vegetable scraps that include zucchini, pumpkins and apples.
“This diet changes the flavor of the meat a lot, giving it better flavor than store-bought,” Elizabeth said.
Brian returned from hauling pigs at 11:30 and ate lunch before letting cows out on pasture. The farm is also home to about 100 chickens that Vivian and Morgan care for, and around 1 p.m., Elizabeth filled a barrel with feed so her daughters could feed the chickens after school. Brian started chopping corn silage the day before and had two wagons to unload, so he began filling the silo around 1:30.
From 2:40 to 3:30, Brian and Elizabeth picked a load of pumpkins. Pumpkin picking is a daily task this time of year for the Peterses, whose pumpkin stand is typically open Sept. 10 to Nov. 10.
“We see a steady flow of customers all day long and want to make sure there’s always a selection for people to buy,” Brian said. “We’re experiencing steady growth and next year we plan to do 10 acres. Last year, COVID-19 really bumped up sales, and we almost doubled from the year before. We had a lot of new customers. We advertise on Facebook and many people found us that way as well as through word of mouth.”
Brian and Elizabeth are known for growing the rare ones, and their pumpkins come in a wide selection of colors, shapes and sizes. Categorized by price, a colorful array of pumpkins and gourds line the farm’s front yard, beckoning passersby with a tempting assortment of fall favorites. Their most popular varieties include the Porcelain Doll, Silver Edge, Specter, Cinderella and Warty Gnome. Elizabeth said pumpkins that cost $1-2 are what many people gravitate towards.
“Yellow pumpkins are hot this year, and white pumpkins are always popular,” Brian said. “Every year it’s something different. You can find nearly every color under the sun. As soon as they come out with purple, I’m buying a whole bunch of seeds.”
Brian finds no-till planting into a cover crop of winter rye produces a healthier, cleaner pumpkin in a patch nearly free of weeds.
“I grow pumpkins totally different than most everyone else,” he said. “Our pumpkins grow on a bed of straw and are as clean as a whistle. A lot of guys have to wash, but we wash nothing. They go straight from the patch to the stand. This saves time and eliminates a lot of work which helps keep prices lower for the consumer.”
Pumpkins are planted between late May and early June after rolling down the rye. Brian used to grow pumpkins the conventional way but had a lot of problems with weeds.
“I was a nervous wreck the first two years of doing no till,” he said. “I hardly slept a wink the first two weeks I tried it. This is a high-dollar crop I’m growing – I spend $500 per acre on seed alone so I need it to turn out.”
Brian and Elizabeth packed the pumpkins in tight into a trailer so they would not knick or bruise.
“We do everything we can to keep pumpkins in pristine condition until they leave the farm,” Brian said. “We also try to cut the stems as long as we can because it adds to the character of the pumpkin.”
When they left the field, their wagon was filled with a variety of pumpkins and gourds, including a blue Lunar Shadow perfect for stacking, an orange and black Warty Sunset that looks like it was made for Halloween and many others with names like Dark Knight, Sunlight, Grizzly Bear and Fool’s Gold.
“We spend three to five hours a day tending to pumpkins during the busy season,” Elizabeth said.
Brian and Elizabeth replenished their stand with the pumpkins they just picked, and at 4 p.m., Brian went and picked another trailer load. He then blew the second load of corn silage up the silo before chopping a load and a quarter until the chopper broke.
“The chain came off and I had to get a new one, but the field was a little muddy anyway, so I decided to stop for the rest of the day,” Brian said.
He started evening chores at 7:30, and Elizabeth joined him after putting the girls to bed. The next day would hold more of the same – picking pumpkins and gourds and stocking their stand between chores while customers come and go.
“Our days are full, but we love it,” Brian said. “It’s fun, and the pumpkins bring us a lot of joy.”