FROGTOWN – When Paul and Linda Stahlman were considering converting their Clarion County farm into a pumpkin patch nearly a dozen years ago, their biggest worry was that it would be a bust.
“We could do this and no one may come,” Paul Stahlman said last week, while reflecting on 10 seasons of operating Paul’s Pumpkin Patch in Frogtown.
But the people came. Boy, did they come.
And now, after 11 years in the business, the Stahlmans announced recently that they are retiring and that the popular fall destination will not open this year.
“We knew last year,” Paul Stahlman explained. He said he told the teachers who came along on the many school trips to the pumpkin patch that the 2018 season would likely be the final one. “It was real fun, but it was a terrific amount of work.”
Both retired school teachers, Paul and Linda Stahlman started thinking about what to do with themselves, and their family farm, after retiring from their teaching careers. Paul said the idea of a pumpkin patch came to him while visiting his sister in Virginia in the fall of 2007 where they stopped in at a pumpkin patch.
“I was looking for something to make a little money on the farm,” he said. “[Farming] was bad then, and worse now.”
He began researching the topic, working with farm and business organizations in the area who told him that the timing was just right to open a pumpkin patch as there was a growing interest in connecting people with the food they eat.
“That meant bringing people back onto the farm,” he said.
Paul’s Pumpkin Patch opened in 2008 and quickly grew into one of the area’s top attractions, drawing in thousands of visitors each year, from both local towns as well as from across the region and even out of state.
“It was the right mix,” Paul said of the patch, which not only offered pick-your-own pumpkins as well as a market full of a wide variety of pumpkins, but also hayrides, a corn box, mazes, a barnyard petting zoo and more.
“We had a lot of loyal followers,” Linda Stahlman said, noting that people not only came back year after year, but one woman even made the pumpkin patch a weekly destination. “Those kind of things make it hard to quit.”
As word spread about the pumpkin patch, and more people came each year, the Stahlmans kept adding to the experience at the farm which has been in the Stahlman family since 1845.
The patch was open every fall from 2008 to 2018, with the exception of 2016 due to illness. The couple said that despite the year off, the 2017 season was their biggest ever as far as attendance.
One popular attraction was “The Frogtown Flinger,” a trebuchet that was built by their sons.
Paul Stahlman said his sons told him, “Dad, if you’re going to have a pumpkin patch, you have to have a pumpkin launcher.”
Now, the launcher and much of the other equipment used at the patch has been sold, they said.
“It was strange seeing it hauled off,” Linda said of watching the trebuchet be carted away. “But what are you going to do with a trebuchet?”
The items were sold to another farm in the area that is considering starting their own pumpkin patch, Paul said, but declined to go into specifics.
Although planning to travel and spend time visiting their three sons in Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Jose, the Stahlmans said they still will keep farming their property, raising cattle, sheep and chickens.
The other difficult task at hand is breaking the news of the patch’s closure to their loyal followers.
“I feel bad for the school groups,” Paul said, explaining that the farm was visited by 600 to 800 students each year.
“We appreciate the people who supported us throughout the years,” he added. “It was a part of us. There’s chapters in your life, and that was a nice chapter.”