For many area families, fall just isn’t complete without a trip to Schappacher Farms.
The family-owned farm, situated on 65 acres along U.S. 42 between Mason and Lebanon, welcomes as many as 15,000 guests each October at its annual fall festival.
Visitors come out to look for the “perfect” pumpkin from the farm’s 15-acre pumpkin patch or find their way through the eight-acre corn maze. The farm also offers tractor rides, a petting zoo and other fruits of the Schappacher family’s labors.
The family-friendly event began 20 years ago when daughter Ashley’s preschool class asked to visit the farm, said Butch Schappacher, who owns the farm with wife Sherry and parents, Al and Minerva Schappacher.
In keeping with its family-oriented roots, festival admission and activities are free.
“People appreciate that,” said Butch Schappacher. “You can go anyplace and buy a pumpkin, but you can’t get a free hay ride and corn maze to go with it.”
Schappacher, 59, is the third-generation of his family to run the farm, which produces several varieties of corn, zucchini and squash, green beans, vine-ripened tomatoes and cucumbers.
But come fall, pumpkins are king at this Mason farm. In addition to basic pie pumpkins and Jack O’ Lanterns, the farm is known for its specialty pumpkins, such as the harder-to-find Jarrahdale, fairytale, peanut and giant varieties. Also popular are squash and gourds, hand-dipped caramel apples and cider.
“Some are here 10 minutes picking up pumpkins and others are here half the day,” said Schappacher of visitors.
Some visitors arrive in the family car or by school bus. Others ride the rails on the Pumpkin Patch Express. The vintage 1930s train chugs out every weekend in October for a 2½ hour non-scary Halloween ride and scenic tour of Warren County, with a 75 minute layover at Schapacher Farms.
The family farm got its roots in 1948 when Al and Minerva Schappacher purchased 260 acres along Mason-Montgomery Road where Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble would later build its $300 million health-care research facility.
Then the family farmed mostly corn and soybeans, with some cattle and hay. The family sold that land and moved to its current operation in the early 1980s.
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” said Schappacher. “I used to sit on the tractor from morning to midnight in our busy time. We used to plow the field, work the field at least two to three times, plant the field and go back in and cultivate the field.”
While technological advancements have helped reduce manpower and time needed for farming, Schappacher says the life of a farmer doesn’t end after harvest.
The season starts in April with the planting of sweet corn and other field crops through June. In May, Schappacher begins to harvest hay, some of which he sells to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
June is pumpkin-planting time and the farm operates a seasonal produce stand throughout summer. As summer winds down, the family gears up for its fall festival, which concludes just in time to harvest crops in November.
A farmer’s work doesn’t end there. Schappacher uses the winter months for bookkeeping, tax preparation, ordering seed and fertilizer and sorting land-rent contracts, government farm service agency paperwork and crop insurance.
“Someone said, ‘What do you do all winter?’ There’s not a lot of downtime,” said Schappacher.
“I keep saying, ‘I’m going to slow down. I’m going to give something up.’ I won’t retire, that won’t happen, but it would be nice not to have five things on your back all the time,” he said.
The Schappacher children, Ashley, 23, and A.J., 21, said growing up on a farm has given them a leg up on their city cousins.
“You understand more the blessing you got growing up on a farm and learn more from the hard work than other kids do because it’s just expected,” said Ashley, a college graduate who now works with the Ohio Farm Bureau.
Schappacher said he enjoys educating children about farming and helping them form connections with the foods they eat.
“Half of them really don’t know really where their food comes from. We tell them, ‘Everything you eat comes off the farm, whether you realize it or not,’” said Schappacher.
“The scary part about it is you see kids who were out on field trips coming out with their kids now,” he added with a laugh.
IF YOU GO
What: Schappacher Farms fall festival
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily in October
Where: 3829 U.S. 42, Mason