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Central Illinois Pumpkin Farms Thrive Despite Pandemic

John Ackerman of Ackerman Family Farms in Morton admits he feared COVID-19 would threaten the commercial viability of the fall pumpkin season.

“Early on, I’ve got to be honest, we were terrified. When I was planting these pumpkins in May and June, we did not know if we could open come fall – and it's very expensive to plant the specialty crops,” Ackerman said. “So it was just a leap of faith to put the seed in the ground and tend it, not knowing if we could actually open.”

As it turned out, Ackerman was able to open – and the business has thrived.

“Honestly, it's been very, very busy for the last six weeks,” he said, citing multiple factors. “The normal reason is that the weather's been good, and the pumpkin production was great.

“I also believe we're benefiting from COVID restrictions because people really want to get out, and get out to the farm and be outside.”

John Zaiser of Zaiser Pumpkin Farm in Washington also has seen an uptick in sales that started earlier than usual.

“We started selling pumpkins on Labor Day, and we usually don't get really busy until the middle of the month of September,” said Zaiser. “Honestly, I just think people are kind of hankering to get out and do something and be outdoors.”

Zaiser said his pumpkin stand has sold more than ever before with a little less than two weeks to go before Halloween, and demand may exhaust supply before the month’s over.

“We've already brought in some pumpkins from another farm to supplement what we've got, and I still don't know that we'll have any left by Halloween,” he said.

Ackerman said pumpkin production also is better than normal this year.

“It's been an odd year, weather-wise,” he said. “We started out with a flood, then we had a drought, then we had a flood, then another drought. But most of the year was pretty dry and pumpkins surprisingly like it drier than not, so they did extremely well this year.”

Both Zaiser and Ackerman said they've taken steps to keep employees and customers safe and adhere to the state’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

“Our pumpkin stand is kind of an ‘on your honor,’ where you come out shop on your own and put the money in the box,” said Zaiser. “We added some things like Venmo and PayPal this year, for people who want to do the contactless and just send money electronically, and that's been pretty popular.”

Ackerman said a lot of the pandemic-related precautions taken at his farm are largely common sense.

“We sanitize a lot of things every so often and all of our staff and crew wear masks,” he said. “We ask our customers (to) wear masks indoors and to do social distancing outdoors. People been really nice about it; I don't think anybody seems to have a problem with it.”

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Good pumpkin production and favorable weather have translated into a busy fall season for Ackerman Family Farms in Morton.
Ackerman Family Farms / Facebook
Good pumpkin production and favorable weather have translated into a busy fall season for Ackerman Family Farms in Morton.

Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.