by Enrico Villamaino
While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the normal routines of farms across the country, one family farm is determined to go “full-gourd” this autumn.
Located in Wheatland, CA, Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm was first opened in 1973 by Bill and Sandy Bishop. Today, the business is run by the third generation of Bishops.
Meghan Bishop-Sanderson grew up working on the farm, and has for six years been manager at the business founded by her grandparents.
“It’s been a challenging year,” said Meghan, “but we are hopeful for the fall.”
Bishop’s infrastructure, which consists of gift shops, kitchens, attractions and administrative buildings, sits on 45 acres. The farm utilizes 100 acres for growing its produce.
Not a year-round business, Bishop’s is open for two seasons a year. There is a short spring season, from mid-April to mid-May, and a longer autumn season from mid-September through early November.
“Unfortunately, we had to cancel our spring season,” she said, “which is too bad, because the kids really love our ‘Hamburger Farm.’” Geared toward student field trips, the spring season emphasizes the importance of California agriculture. The “Hamburger Farm” trip is a favorite, showing students everything agriculture-related that goes into making a hamburger, from the wheat grown to make the bun to the vegetables needed for the toppings and the condiments. This would have been the program’s 19th year. “We’re waiting to see how things go for next year,” Meghan said. “Right now, whether or not schools will be back in session for next spring is uncertain. But if they’re back, we’ll be back!”
Currently, the Bishops are gearing up for autumn, which for a pumpkin farm is the big season.
“We usually have about 12,000 people visit us in the spring, and we usually have around 30 employees working here,” explained Meghan. “But in the fall, we can have over 200,000 visitors and need 600 employees to operate.” She said she hopes to see those numbers undiminished this autumn.
She noted that the farm is uniquely suited to the challenges of the day, as it provides people a chance to be outdoors and get some exercise while still maintaining social distancing. “We have a lot of space and a lot of activities. There’s pumpkin picking, train rides, a carousel, ziplines, a giant slide, a sunflower labyrinth, a corn maze and a giant slide. These are things that people can enjoy without being too close to one another,” she said. As of now, all of Bishop’s attractions are set to be open when the autumn season begins.
Bishop’s also hosts family movie nights, fireworks displays and a joint 5K/10K race named “Run Your Gourd Off,” which draws an average of 300 fleet-footed farm fanatics every September.
Meghan has been busy working on Bishop’s response plan on how best to implement new safety protocols in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We’re really increasing our signage and sanitation stations. We’re in California, so masks are now a requirement,” she said. Despite this, Bishop’s will feature several “mask-free zones,” such as the pumpkin field, where visitors will be able to enjoy an unadulterated breath of fresh air. Also a new addition, Bishop’s “clean team” will rove the entire property, disinfecting surfaces between uses.
Meghan credits the county’s “YES Team” with helping businesses like hers continue to operate in the face of so many adjustments. The Yuba Enterprise Solutions (YES) initiative is Yuba County’s effort to find a way to take the state’s restrictions and a company’s needs and resources and “make it work.”
“The YES Team has been a very good source of advice for us,” she said.
Looking toward autumn, Meghan admitted that just having a business as usual season would be a huge step forward. “We’re doing what we’ve always done, just with a few more steps.” She mused, “I think we’ll have a good fall.”