At just 16 years old, Montevideo High School Junior Sam Ripley isn’t new to business ownership, having purchased abandoned storage units to sell the wares in his Erhard, Minn. thrift store for a couple of years. Now, Ripley is venturing into new territory, utilizing the land on his family farm in rural Montevideo to open a fall destination for families as Sam’s Pumpkin Patch. Some may recognize the name from the stand located at the Cenex Travel Plaza over the last couple of years where Ripley has sold his homegrown pumpkins each fall. This year, in addition to that, Ripley will be opening up a good portion of his family farm for guests with a lot of activities for families seeking fall activities. “I’ve kind of always, even when I was five years old, wanted to have my own business,” he says. “That’s what I’m planning to go to college for is business management or something like that.”
Ripley, knowing that the local area doesn’t have a lot of nearby fall family activities available, started brainstorming ideas for the venture a few years ago. “I have actually had this kind of idea for the last three or four years, but I’ve never really gotten into it before now because I was young enough that I didn’t fully understand everything I needed to do to get started. But this year, I knew at the beginning of the year that this was what I wanted to do and so I told my parents what I was planning and they were fine with it,” Ripley says. “They’ve been very supportive and put in a lot of time to help me do this.”
That support also allowed Ripley to pursue all of his ideas while having adults available to sign necessary contracts and obtain the insurance necessary to host such a venture. Ripley used profits from his thrift store to purchase animals for a petting zoo, and a rack for hayrides, as well as a barrel train and other items necessary for the activities that will be hosted at Sam’s Pumpkin Patch. “I spend quite a few weekends and weeks up there in the summer selling what I find,” Ripley says about his thrift store. “My Grandma and Grandpa have been a real support in that. That extra money has been kind of funding this because the first time it’s a lot of upfront costs.” Ripley has also found some local sponsors for the venture, including Big Valley Milling, the Farmer’s Co-Op Agronomy Center, Bruce Vien at Kuhlmann Real Estate, and Ripleys’ Inc of Erhard.
For mentoring, Ripley turned to friends who owned similar venues in the Fergus Falls area, where his family owns lake property. “There’s one guy that’s really helped me out. He’s kind of got the same size set-up, hayrides, barrel trains. He’s been the one telling me which kind of mini donut maker I should get, what kinds of seeds I should buy, and everything he’s been telling me has been working out really well,” Ripley says. Since last fall, Ripley has been carefully planning the activities, purchasing the items necessary, and making changes around his family’s farm property to prepare for this fall’s opening.
“We actually hand-till all of these fields,” says Ripley. “The one up top took me 30 hours to hand-till. We don’t use any chemicals, and it’s all-natural. All the water comes right out of the well and it’s watered all by hand with the hoses.” Because of the drought, the watering took extra effort this year, with more investment in hoses, and drilling throughout the yard to make sure there was a sufficient supply to keep the pumpkins growing. “These few rains we’ve been getting have helped, but it was definitely a concern,” Ripley says.
The neighboring Enevoldsen’s helped prepare the land for the venue as well, while Ripley has been spending much of his time planning the events and activities. An area of their rural property has been marked off for a parking lot area, which leads into an area where a 30-foot tent will reside. The tent will act as a front desk area, where admission can be paid, but also for those not wishing to take part in activities who would still like to purchase any of the pumpkins, gourds, or decorative corn, they can do so at the tent without having to pay admission. “We’ll have a variety of everything that we sell in there,” Ripley says. Beyond that area will be a petting zoo area featuring Ripley’s collection of animals including a horse, miniature horse, llama, three goats, chickens, and a potbelly pig. There will also be a table there to purchase feed for the animals. “We’ll sell the feed for people to feed the animals because that’s a fun thing for kids,” Ripley says.
He has also transformed a machine shed on the property to be the concession stand area, featuring cable spool tables with chairs, a rental area decorated for Birthday parties, and a variety of concessions. “The big thing we’ve got this year is the state fair donuts. They’ll be made fresh here. We’ll be selling candy bars, sodas, hot chocolate, coffee, hot dogs, pre-made cotton candy, water, and chips. There’s indoor seating that will help get people out of the elements. We’re also going to be doing pumpkin painting that may be an additional cost for the paint and the pumpkin,” Ripley says.
Beyond the concession stand, the open parts of the yard will feature a variety of activities including a straw bale maze for young children, a corn pit, a variety of ride-on toys for young children, and farm mini-golf. Another large area of the yard will have photo opportunities with various fall-themed decorations. “There’s a hayrack to be used on a hayride that will be going down the gravel roads and around. It’ll be a 15-minute ride. It has sides, and a door to get on to sit on hay bales. That’s kind of a bigger attraction,” Ripley says. There will also be a life-sized checkerboard, beanbag toss, and pumpkin bowling.
The pumpkin patch will feature some pre-picked pumpkins sitting on palettes, for those who would rather not trek through the patch, but there will also be clippers available as well as wagons to haul pumpkins in for those who prefer to pick their own. “The majority will want to pick their own,” Ripley says. “We have a wide variety. We have white ones, orange, pink, blue. On the upper area, there’s a gourd patch. Another pumpkin patch in the lower part has more gourds.” Ripley is also excited to offer barrel train rides. “We have big trails through the woods to the driveway that loops around and comes back. We’ll have eight cars,” he says. He has also transformed an out-of-commission chicken coop building into a gift shop. “I put in a jewelry table, old pallets, a hutch. There will be canned goods in there, fall decorations, toys,” he says. All of the activities are included in the admission price, which is just $5 per person age two and up, under two years are free. “We welcome groups,” he says. “I already got a call about a senior care living that wants to come out, and I’ve received messages about a school field trip.”
Sam’s Pumpkin Patch, located at 4425 186th St. will be open Saturdays and Sundays starting September 11 through October 31st as well as Thursday and Friday of MEA break from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. each of those days. Directions and more information can be found at the Sam’s Pumpkin Patch website, samspumpkinpatch.weebly.com. “Thank you to my mom and dad and family for their support. They’ve helped a lot with the planning, and everything,” says Ripley. “This is our first year of doing this whole farm thing and I’m kind of blown away by the interest. On the opening day event on Facebook, we have over 1,000 people who checked interested in going on that day.”