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Blessington Farms looks to grow more than crops

September 21, 2018

Kim Wolbrecht steps along a path leading to a grassy area where piles of picturesque, “Instagrammable” pumpkins adorn the field.

Antique-looking furniture, haystacks and an old truck serve as backdrops with mountains of odd-looking squash, gourds and future jack-o-lanterns that customers who visit Blessington Farms this fall can buy, said Wolbrecht, the marketing director at the farm.

“Some of the best sellers are these warty looking ones, because they just can’t find them,” she said. “When people see them they are like, ‘What?’ So, they love that kind of stuff.”

To coincide with the start of the fall season, Blessington Farms is throwing a fall festival on Saturdays and Sundays complete with a pumpkin patch and hayrides. The fall season runs through Nov. 10. Admission is $20.

“The pumpkins were kind of easing in,” Wolbrecht said, careful not to step into the mud. “We had an 18-wheeler load of pumpkins come in; 55 pallets of pumpkins on Tuesday. And as soon as they pulled out of the driveway, all 70-some-odd-thousand strawberry plants pulled in.”

Two more 18-wheeler loads of pumpkins are expected this season to keep up with the demand, she adds.

Wolbrecht looks up. Dark clouds swirl above and a light breeze whistles.

Last year, farmhands had about three and half weeks to get ready for the fall season due to Hurricane Harvey. The blackberry crops were nearly all but destroyed.

“When we flooded, we had four feet of water. It came all the way through,” she said, pointing to the various crops. “We had blueberries back here. We lost them all, so we went and replanted and put them in.”

The farm in Simonton, is about 20 minutes west of Katy, and 40 miles outside of downtown Houston, but you’ll find all kinds of people at Blessington Farms, said Lynne Johnson, who co-owns the farm with her husband, Dave.

“It’s so fun to walk through here and hear all the different accents,” Lynne said, smiling at her husband Dave. “People talking and the different dresses that people wear.”

The pair opened the farm in 2012 but were forced to close early due to freezing temperatures, according to a previous Houston Chronicle report.

Since inception, the husband and wife duo have slowly increased the activities at the farm. Blessington Farms has always been known for its Hydro-Stacker Vertical Hydroponic Growing System, which uses no soil and just five percent of the water a traditional farmer would use.

The Farm Funland activities includes giant slides, barrel train rides, pedal cars, fishing and Baby Doll sheep. Some of the adventures are add-ons or an extra $3, such as the walk-thru aviary, where you get to feed the birds, as well as gem-mining.

“It’s a family event,” Wolbrecht said. “When you come out to the country, you don’t get to do that very often. Especially those who live in the city, when they do come out, ‘It’s like wow! It’s fun.’”

Every year, the Johnsons add something new to the farm. This year, it was two Toucans. In previous years, it was a reptile enclosure and sulcata tortoises. There was a time when they brought in Posey, a mix between a zebra and a donkey. She’s still there.

And then there is Carl and Johnny.

“Jack’s trying to teach them how to paint with a paintbrush,” Wolbrecht said, laughing.

Carl, a light-colored camel, aggressively grabs leaves from a branch that Wolbrecht is holding up to him. Johnny, a bit darker, is gentler. The two camels are inside a pen with other farm animals and are used to the attention, Wolbrecht said. On Saturdays, children will spend hours up on a tower feeding them, she said.

“But they do bite,” she said. “If they don’t like you. And they do remember.”

Even though Harvey put a dent in the farm’s attendance last year, Blessington Farms still received about 25,000 people, Owner Dave Johnson said.

That’s including school districts and weekend guests, he added.

In the Spring, the two main attractions are Spring Break and Easter, where crowds as big as 15,000 people have come to participate in an Easter egg hunt. That’s 40,000 people for the entire year, Dave said.

He anticipates this year can only mean higher attendance. They are shooting to get the attention of corporate clients and more school districts.

“That’s where our growth really lies,” Dave said. “It’s hard to advertise to them, so you have to depend on word of mouth. But it has been steadily growing.”

Wolbrecht looks up, as rain clouds start to build overhead. The tour is over.

“We made just in time before the rain starts.”

michelle.iracheta@chron.com

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