Local farm a seasonal must-visit
The color and variety of pumpkins, gourds and squash at Harvey’s Pumpkins & Squash in rural Frazee is astounding to witness after a nice drive out in the country as fall approaches.
Harvey Flatau, his wife Betty and their dog Duke, have an incredible assortment and a steady customer base from kids looking for the perfect Jack O’ Lantern orange pumpkin to fall wedding decorators.
“I farmed corn, beans, alfalfa and cattle with my brother for 40 years,” said Harvey. “We took over for my dad. I got out in 2012 and thought well I’ve got to do something. I started doing these pumpkins. I had started earlier with a small amount. I used to just sell on weekends, Saturday or Sunday. I’d fill up a trailer and go sell it on the road. It just went from there.”
According to Betty, farmers don’t have many hobbies. Their hobby is farming and when a farmer retires, he tends to keep farming.
“It’s a lot of work,” Betty said. “We don’t have to have a gym membership.”
There was no initial plan to start growing and selling pumpkins. The job started out as a friendly, family wager.
“That’s how it all started years ago,” said Harvey. “I bet my brother who could grow the biggest one. Then we just had a few pumpkins left on the trailer. We went out on the road and they bought them right away.”
As time has passed, the market for different varieties has changed immensely.
“Years ago, it used to just be orange pumpkins,” Harvey said. “The seed companies have come out with different varieties and different shapes. People want the new colors, the pinks, the blues, the yellows and stuff like that. The orange ones they still buy, but not as much. People do more decorating than Jack O’ Lanterns.”
The multiple tables set attractively around the front yard of the farmhouse contain at least 20 different kinds of pumpkins and gourds of all different shapes.
“A lot of people come for the squash too,” said Betty.
Customers do more than just peruse the vast collection. The farm is also a perfect place for photo opportunities.
“As soon as they get out of the car they have their camera and they’re taking pictures all over. It’s fun to see the little kids get excited,” said Betty.
The Flataus have their own kids who chip in around the family farm, especially now, as the seasons begin to turn and business picks up.
“On weekends when it’s really big picking time our kids come out and help,” said Betty. “They all live right around here. We’ve got four children and 10 grandkids. We appreciate that.”
Harvey lives up to his wife’s claim that in retirement his main hobby is still being out in the field working.
“It gives me something to do; keeps me busy,” he said. “It’s good therapy. When I get up in the morning I go out and hoe for a few hours. It kind of ties us down this time of year. It would be nice to go somewhere, but I’m doing this. Now that I’m supposedly retired, every year I think I’m going to quit and then they send me those seed catalogs in the winter time and I order a few. Some years are good; some years are bad.”
Like farming any crop, the gamble against the weather is the big bet every year.
“This year is probably the nicest stuff I’ve had,” said Harvey. “You need the rain to keep everything going but you don’t want a lot of rain, then they’ll spoil and get bad. This year has been really nice. Very few bad ones out there. Every year is different. Last year, I planted them and they came up perfect and they all froze. I try to get them in early but we had a late freeze in May. One year, I had a hail storm and they were done. Nothing to pick. Mother Nature pretty much determines whether I’m going to get any or not. I could have an early freeze right now. It’s not unknown if it freezes hard enough.”
Aside from the weather, there is the other constant planting plague for everyone from backyard gardeners to full-time farmers.
“My biggest problem is weeds,” said Harvey.
“The weeds win,” said Betty.
Having fields full of brightly colored and giant ripe fruits attracts other challenges.
“There are a lot of them out there that the deer get,” said Harvey. “One of my problems is the deer. They take a bite out of one and once they do that they’re pretty much ruined.”
Rising costs are also becoming an issue, as they are in all facets of inflationary life.
“The seed prices have doubled over the past couple years, especially for the ones that are more ornamental and unique,” said Harvey.
Despite that, Harvey’s is one place that a customer can still make a purchase with coins and get something of value in return. There are gourds available for 50 cents that are hot draws with children and pumpkins as low as $1.
“I try to sell a nice product at a pretty decent price,” Harvey said. “Everything has basically been the same price for a long time.”
The big, ornamental pumpkins are a steal on the showcase table for only $6 and all the pumpkins, gourds and squash at Harvey’s are washed before being sold.
“I think people like them like that,” he said.
The Flataus are typically around their quiet, beautiful farmstead to greet customers, along with 12-year-old Duke, who is a master of customer service.
“Our dog is our little greeter,” said Betty. “If he gets a belly rub from a customer he’s happy.”
There is a drop box for payment on site for visitors who stop by when the family is away.
“People have been really good, really nice,” said Harvey. “I’m not worried about it at all.”
The next few weeks are the busy time at the farm, especially with the weather forecasted to cool into more autumnal temps over the weekend.
“As soon as it turns cool, people get more in the mood too, when fall gets here and the leaves turn a little bit,” said Harvey. “Some people like to decorate early, the next couple weeks is when I basically do my stuff and slack off from there.”
Harvey’s Pumpkins & Squash is open daily at 9 a.m., and located at 38135 460th Street in rural Frazee, nine miles south of town and seven miles east of Vergas. Follow the Pumpkins signs. The family also maintains the Harvey’s Pumpkins & Squash Facebook page for more info and great photos.