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Craven Farm sparked area’s pumpkin tourism

Mark and Judy Craven stand next to a variety of pumpkins big and small at their farm off of Short School Road in the Snohomish River Valley. A teacher’s request 35 years ago led to the first season of pumpkin picking, which now has grown into a wide array of farm fun. Numerous other farms in the Snohomish River Valley today capitalize on the fall season with Snohomish’s Festival of Pumpkins.

SNOHOMISH — Over 35 seasons, Craven Farm has perfected a recipe for agritourism success: Combine 40 acres of pumpkins and gourds, plentiful attractions and a firm notion of what family oriented entertainment should look like and the public will — and does — come from all corners.
It all started with a suggestion.
Back when the word agritourism was in its infancy, owner Mark Craven remembers a little bug being put in his ear.
Local Lutheran preschool teacher Sue Baxter was hunting for a safe, easy access spot for her pupils to pick pumpkins.
“You know, can’t Mark plant some pumpkins,” she remembered telling Judy Craven in the early 1980s.
“Craven’s really was the first.” I enjoy all the farms, Baxter said,  though “Craven’s is still my favorite.”
From one acre of pumpkins planted to please the local teacher, the Craven family farm has grown into a Halloween tradition for thousands of families. Today, the preschoolers are parents and bring their own children.
Over the years, the patch has grown. Where once his grandparents ran a dairy and planted berries, now pumpkins are king.
Craven doesn’t know how many he goes through in a season, but demand has been growing. He brings on 30 to 40 weekend staff just to keep up with the pumpkin hunters.
Craven and six other farms market collaboratively through the Snohomish Valley Festival of Pumpkins, which is going on now. He says the farming community here is very special, with farmers even sharing pumpkins if a farm is short.  
“We’ve grown and they’ve grown, we all offer something different and we all support each other … We’re all in it together.”
At Craven’s the emphasis is on family friendly, and a mind-boggling spread of activities.
There is a petting farm full of kittens, kits, chicks, goats and more. 
Athletes can chuck green apples at targets, aiming for the elusive sasquatch in the distance, but more likely smashing into Jack o’Lanterns.
There are storybook-themed displays, from Snow White and the Seven Pumpkins to a pirate ship with a pumpkin-headed crew.
The Cravens attend conferences to glean ideas, but gather many online too. Others come from staff, and sometimes by surprise.
A big hit last season was a huge pile of wood chips Craven didn’t have time to clear before the farm opened. Kids took to it like ducks to the water so the woodchip pile returned this year.
Another recent addition is a nine hole mini-golf course. In a nearby barn, customers can craft their own custom scarecrows.
There are authentic, rustic attractions too, like hay rides.
Of course, there are fields of pumpkins of all sizes, shapes and shades in two patches.
“Orange-red, white and warty, everyone likes something different,” Craven says.
There are mazes to suit different tastes, too. In one, children must answer farm trivia questions correctly to find the exit.
Craven has honed the art of maze making for more than three decades and today he creates paths from scratch as he plows down the corn, without even a sketch in advance. He delights in confounding guests with new tricks every year.
Creating the maze takes several days on its own, and is just one element of a nonstop Halloween season. Wife Judy Craven and her crew handle most of the creative Mark says, while he implements.
Setup begins in August and take down can run to Thanksgiving. 
After the bubbly rush of the crowd and all the festivities, Craven says despite the long hours, he misses the activity when it dies down.
But it’s not long before he’s planning the next season of fall fun.
And for folks who want to know the best pumpkin type from the master, Craven says it’s all about the stem.
“Great big huge long ones, a strong big stem,” that’s the best.



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