By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Charlie Brown and thousands of other kids from throughout Southern California apparently will have to find their Great Pumpkin elsewhere as the annual Santa Paula Rotary Faulkner Farm Pumpkin Patch held at the UC Hansen Trust Agricultural Center is no more.
According to recent correspondence from a trust official to incoming Rotary Club President Chris Wilson, the October 2013 Pumpkin Patch, and event held each weekend of the month, was the last based on what was described as future need for the educational facility to expand its operations.
Wilson garnered the confirmation after club members learned from an alternate source that the annual Pumpkin Patch event, held at the corner of Briggs and West Telegraph roads, was being squashed.
The issue has its ironies: the future plans sited by a trust official as the reason to stop the Pumpkin Patch, such as engaging in additional research and agricultural education projects and programs requiring more farm acreage, were reasons cited in 2010 when the UC Hansen Trust Advisory Board recommended selling the farm. But at that time the decision to sell was based on statements that there was not sufficient space at the farm for such expanded activities and more acreage was needed. After a community outcry and formation of a special study group that included Supervisor Kathy Long, the idea was dropped.
Since the 1970s the Ayer family, whose ancestors had established the farm and built the home and red barn in 1894, operated the Pumpkin Patch. The Queen Anne style home is a county historical landmark and on the National Register of Historical Places.
The university purchased the 27-acre farm in 1997 for $1.5 million from the proceeds of the estate of grower Thelma Hansen, who wanted an agricultural educational center created.
A scaled back Pumpkin Patch continued for several years before it was closed and the nonprofit Rotary Club revived the event in 2007 with the support of the trust. This year the Pumpkin Patch drew more than 22,000 visitors from throughout Southern California.
Each year the Rotary distributes all revenue generated by the patch to area clubs and organizations, by direct donations to those that volunteer event as well as through grants. Over the years the event has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into other local nonprofits.
Club members and officials are discussing the issue and how it should be addressed.
“We’re disappointed,” at the potential loss of the venue, said Incoming Rotary President Chris Wilson. “We are glad we were there for as long as we were and we’re exploring our options, including a new home. We’re hoping that if we do need to find a new home that it will be as nice as the old, but that’s asking a lot I’m afraid.”
Rotarians discussed options at a special meeting called Monday following their traditional disbursement of funds-$40,000 in the first round-to other nonprofits that helped at the patch. In addition, Rotary retained $15,000 for its scholarship fund. Other profits will be awarded to nonprofits following a grant process. Each year the club has returned about $100,000 to the community that was raised by the patch.
The history of the Pumpkin Patch and UC Hansen Trust has had rocky moments: several years after the failed 2010 attempt to sell the property the club was told it would have to do a lengthy Request for Proposal to stage the patch. Rotary was the only group that expressed an interest.
This year the popular Rotary directed school tours that brought more than 2,000 children for special Friday educational outings were taken over by UC Hansen Trust.
In 2010 it was announced that the trust advisory board had recommended selling Faulkner Farm because acreage was limited to engage in additional research and agricultural education projects, the reason now given why the Pumpkin Patch can no longer use the property.
According to an email sent to Wilson from Christopher Smith, director of UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County and the Hansen Trust, the property will not be available to Rotary or any other entity to host a Pumpkin Patch.
“We are expanding AG educational offerings, including new partnerships with the Ventura Unified School District/Food Corps program, and additional county-wide academic-year school field trips, requiring additional garden acreage; and long-term research projects, which have in the past been postponed in deference to short-term community activities (e.g., the October “Pumpkin Patch” event), will finally be implemented.”
Smith’s email noted, “These new and current on-going activities are part of our long-standing mission to service and support agricultural research and agricultural education benefiting all in Ventura County. This is the mission defined by Thelma Hansen Endowment, which continues to support the HAREC, and aligns with the goals and objectives of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension, and Research Extension Centers, which also supports the HAREC.”
The news came as a surprise to Michael D. Hause, a member of the Trust Advisory Board: “I was not aware of that letter (from Smith) and on a significant matter like that I would think they would have communicated with us about it.”
Said Hause, a former Santa Paula Rotarian, “I’m really saddened by all of this.... “
Smith, who took over UC Hansen Trust oversight during the summer, said Monday that the advisory board was not asked for input on the decision regarding the end of the Pumpkin Patch at Faulkner Farm.
He noted Rotary, “Has issues they have been dealing with for some time,” that require a larger venue, such as traffic and parking issues.
Smith was referring to overflow parking being directed to Do Right’s Plant Growers, located cattycorner from the farm. A Rotary spokesman said the club arranged for a shuttle that ferried visitors that did not want to walk between the two locations.
Smith said Rotary uses four acres for the annual event, two to grow pumpkins. A Rotary representative said the growing field originated several years ago when the club was asked to donate seed for a university demonstration growing area and the club continues to purchase and import the bulk of pumpkins and produce sold.
The club also paid approximately $12,000 in fees to the trust for this year’s Pumpkin Patch.
Smith said the university “Is a research and education center and we would like to see more education on the grounds.... the real issue has to do with us getting back to our mission,” by providing same.
Several projects targeted by the university such as tree disease research and partnerships for food growing education “Have been on the back burner for years. We need the allocation of land that overlaps with the Rotary Pumpkin Patch, it compromises our ability to do the long term research projects.”