08 Sep Community Spotlight: Possum Patch Farms
Every autumn, when my kids were in preschool and kindergarten, they were loaded on a bus with the other school kids and visited a pumpkin patch. These were all day trips and often the pumpkin patch was a good hour or so away. Six years ago, things changed for the kids in the Olney area when the Shawver family opened their own pumpkin patch/fall activity venue right in Richland County. Colby Shawver, one of the long-time team members here at AM Transport remembers how it all started. “We were sitting around and Alexis (Colby’s wife) said, Wouldn’t it be fun to grow and sell pumpkins!” That was all it took for the Shawver bunch to begin working on what would become one of Richland County’s premier fall attractions.
Here at AM Transport, we love our community. So we thought it would be fun to spotlight Possum Patch Farms with a little Q and A with Colby.
How did you guys come up with the name, Possum Patch Farms?
We were all sitting around throwing out different names, and Possum Patch just sounded right. We dropped the “O” from opossum because it looked better with “Patch.”
The Possum Patch has a lot more than pumpkins. You have animals and games and food too. What did that first year look like?
The first year, we had a corn maze, a huge slide, a petting zoo, food, face painting, a hay maze, swing sets, a corn pit, and a pedal car race track.
You’ve grown a lot over the years. What activities do you offer now?
This year we have paintball, pedal car racing, gem mining, and a giant bounce pillow. We also have slides, a bounce house, a corn maze, a pallet maze, a corn pit, and pumpkin picking. In addition we offer hay rides, shopping in our store, inflatable animals for kids to ride, a fishing game, a culvert ride, and a barrel train. Our petting zoo is always popular as is pumpkin decorating. This year, we’ll have a tent set up in Olney where people can buy pumpkins and fall decorations.
We had a pumpkin slingshot a couple of years ago and decided to cancel it. We had too much trouble with the rubber bands. Everything else we kept.
The mazes are a big hit, can you tell us a little bit about this year’s corn maze?
It’s a good one this year. Each year, my brother-in-law Connor spends quite a bit of time picking out the design. When the corn is about knee-high, we head out and create the maze. He walks in front of me and I follow him with the mower. We take an aerial photo, so people have a cheat sheet. It took my wife, Alexis, and my sister, Brittany, about 30 minutes to make their way out.
How many pumpkins do you plant and harvest every year, and do you have any favorites?
I’m going to be honest here–I have no idea how many pumpkins we sell every year. I can tell you that we plant 15-20 acres of pumpkins and gourds. We grow 10 varieties of pumpkins. The planting takes several days. We have a little two-row planter. It takes one person to drive the tractor and one to ride on the back and place a seed down the tube each side at the same time.
As for the pumpkins–my favorite are the polar bears. They are monster white pumpkins that weigh a ton!
The petting zoo is a big favorite. I love to see the animals with my grandkids. Can you list all the animals you have and have had over the years?
This might be tricky to remember them all, but I’ll give it a try. We’ve had a kangaroo (RIP Bert), an African crested porcupine, Patagonia Maras, guinea pigs, fainting goats, chickens, regular rabbits, Flemish Giant rabbits, a camel, and an emu. We’ve also had a miniature donkey, a miniature pony, a miniature Zebu Cow, a skunk, Pot Belly pigs, regular pigs, Pygmy goats, Runner Ducks, African Geese, horses, dogs, and cats.
This year’s new animals are the camel–Mike, and the emu–Becky. The camel’s name came from the insurance commercials because the camel walks around and yells Mike. The emu reminds us of this crazy bird named Becky from Finding Dory.
One of the animals, Seabiscuit, has a special place in Rob McClain’s heart. You’ll have to ask him about his love for Seabiscuit.
So we’ve talked about animals, activities, and pumpkins. Let’s talk about the awesome food you will be serving this year at the pumpkin patch.
Okay. This year our menu includes:
- pork burgers
- pulled pork sandwich
- pulled pork nachos
- possum dog (a quarter pound all-beef hot dog smothered in pulled pork and cheese on a bun)
- pulled pork tacos (pulled pork, homemade cole slaw, bbq aioli, and cheese on a fried tortilla)
- fried fish taco
- quarter pound hot dog
- fried spiralized potatoes
- fried pickles
- fried Oreos
- fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich
- fried caramel apples
- funnel cakes.
We’ll also have some specials which will include chili, chicken and noodles, and deconstructed egg rolls (they’re a favorite).
The lemonade stand menu includes:
- lemonade shakeups
- orange shakeups
- ice cream (six flavors)
- apple cider slushy
- blue raspberry slushy
- ice cream float
- apple cider float
The spiralized potatoes are amazing, and those pulled pork tacos sound so good. But you guys also have a great gift shop. Tell us a little bit about the goods you will be selling this year.
We opened a small gift shop the first year. We mainly had pumpkins and a few jams and jellies along with some fall decorations. It’s evolved into a pretty big store now. We have over 67 different jams, jellies, salsas, and bbq sauces. We also have lots of different toys, antiques, as well as, fall and Christmas decorations, mugs, and baked goods.
My mom, my wife Alexis, and my sister Brittany are the minds behind the store. They keep finding things to add every year.
We also have really cool hand-knitted hats for babies from a young lady we know. We’ve also got some of my uncle’s birdhouses from Nature’s Creations. And we buy handpainted sings from our neighbor Jenna. So we have a wide variety of local gifts too.
Can you share with us some of your pumpkin patch favorites?
One of my favorite fall activities was to take our kids to a pumpkin patch each year. I just loved seeing the joy on their faces when we pulled up and while we were there. I’m blessed to see that same look on a lot of kids’ and adults’ faces when they come to visit our pumpkin patch. Our kids loving working at the patch. They also don’t mind living behind the pumpkin patch, so they can play all year round.
My favorite activity is probably the hay ride. It’s about 25 minutes long and pretty relaxing.
As for my favorite food–I’m torn between our pulled pork tacos and our possum dogs. My favorite sweet treat is the fried pb&j.
My favorite animal has to be Mike the camel. He is pretty cool.
So how many family members do you have working at the pumpkin patch, and how many other people help out?
We have 17 family members who help and around 30 friends. It takes quite a few people to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Did the pandemic hurt your business last year? And are you expecting a better turnout this year?
Last year was the lowest turnout we’ve ever had, including the first year. But we expect lots more people to be out this year. We are honored to be a part of people’s family fall traditions. We’ve had families drive from four hours away to visit our little patch.
So when do you open this year?
We open on September 18. It’s coming right up. Our hours are Saturday 11:00-6:00 and Sunday 12:00-5. We offer both day passes and season passes.
If you’re looking for some fall fun, good food, pumpkins and more, please check out Possum Patch Farms. You won’t be sorry. They are located at 6734 East Cleaver Lane Olney, IL 62450.