Four Places For U-Pick Pumpkins... From A Farm!

This time of year, commercial pumpkin "patches" sprout up overnight in asphalt parking lots, lighted with enough incandescent bulbs to power a cut-rate casino. Which got me thinking-- surely there must be real pumpkin patches in our paved-over county where living things grow in the earth? Where can we take the kidlets to pick their own pumpkins off the vine? There aren't very many, but here are some more interesting (and cheaper!) options than buying your jack o' lantern pumpkins at the supermarket. After the jump: My top four picks.

1. Westminster High School's Future Farmers of America Program
You've seen their pumpkin patch as you zip past on Interstate 405. That working farm belongs to the Westminster High School's Future Farmers of America program, which sells the harvest of pumpkins and fruit every Wednesday afternoon at the farmer's market at the Westminster Mall.

One day every year, the farm is open to the public during it's annual Fall Festival. This year, it's Saturday, Oct. 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Newly hired faculty instructor Phillip Bentz says, "We'll have u-pick pumpkins for sale, face painting, dunk tank, pumpkin carving. The infamous 'goldfish booth' is coming back. I wasn't here for that last year, so you'll have to come to find out."

Co-instructor Dave Eusantos notes they grow six varieties of jack o' lantern pumpkins, including Fairytales and White Ghosts. "We have big ones and little ones for the young kids, ranging from $1 to $5," he says.

Festival admission is $5 per person, which includes burgers, dogs, chips and soda. The FFA students man the game booths and the petting zoo (which contains not just animals hired for the event, but the farm's own livestock). All proceeds from the event support the FFA.

During the rest of the year, Bentz says, "The public can still can support us by going to the Westminster Farmer's Market and buying our products. When persimmons ripen, we'll send those over, also avocados. I teach a floral class, so we'll be sending our pumpkin-themed flower designs there. Any time someone makes a contribution to the FFA, we're a tax-free organization so it's a tax benefit."

Westminster High School, 14325 Goldenwest St., Westminster. (714) 893-1381.
To get to the farm: enter from Goldenwest Street, turn onto Main Street into campus, and follow it past the football fields until you reach the farm.

2. Tanaka Farms, Irvine
Tanaka Farms in Irvine
Can't wait until Oct. 30 to pick pumpkins? Tanaka Farms in Irvine welcomes the public daily to pick pumpkins from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no admission fee.

The Tanaka family has been farming since 1941. "We've been doing the pumpkin patch for about 20 years now," says third-generation farmer Kenny Tanaka. "It first started off with guided tours around the fields, then developed into wagon rides, petting zoo, corn maze and pick your own pumpkins."

"These days, we'll drive you over to the field on the wagon, and then it's self guided after that. We have a 30-acre farm, and you'll see most of it on the wagon ride. We have baby goats, lambs, calves and a couple of llamas in our petting zoo. On weekends, we have games like pumpkin basketball shoots. We're giving ATV rides, and built a pedal-cart course out in the field."

Cost for individuals are $3 for the petting zoo, $5 for the wagon ride; kids age 2 and under get in free. U-pick pumpkins are sold by weight: A  6-to-8-pound pumpkin runs $3.25, and there's a sliding scale from there, up to a 30-pound pumpkin. School and youth groups can arrange for all-inclusive package rates.

The award-winning barbecue team from The Rub Company out of Buena Park will be smoking pulled pork and Santa Maria style tri-tip on Saturdays and Sundays. Tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches cost $6, hot dogs $3 and BBQ corn $2.50.

Tanaka Farms, 5380 3/4 University Dr., Irvine (949) 653-2100;

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