Harvest-time Attractions Bolster Business For Farmers

September 24, 2018
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Harvest-time Attractions Bolster Business For Farmers

NORTH ABINGTON TWP. — Kids clutched Skittles and Starbursts to their chests and hustled away from the blast zone.

The candy cannon, a new attraction at Roba Family Farms, had just blown pounds of candy into the air and rained it down on youngsters waiting below, who scavenged for every last bit.

“We just shot 30 pounds and there’s nothing left,” said Jeff Roba shortly after blast-off.

It was the first full day of fall at one of the region’s best-known seasonal attractions.

Like many family-owned or otherwise smaller farms in Northeast Pennsylvania, the Robas diversify with harvest — time attractions such as hay rides and pick-your-own apples to bolster an otherwise grueling and risky business. In their case, attractions such as apple cannons, a giant corn maze and a pumpkin patch are a bigger slice of their business than selling apples, corn and pumpkins wholesale.

The Roba family built what started decades ago as a Christmas tree farm and pumpkin patch into a veritable harvest season amusement park on a hilltop in North Abington Twp.

But that doesn’t save them from the same turmoil that plagues other farmers, and this year, with ceaseless raining days and fleeting sunshine, has been particularly hard on them.

“This is way worse than a drought,” said owner and farmer John Roba, 60.

In a dry season, deep underground aquifers supply plenty of water for farmers who have adequate irrigation.

But sometimes even the best-drained farmland gets saturated and crops languish when the sun hides for days on end.

“It was a hard season.” said Trevor Brown, owner and farmer at Purple Pepper Farms in Overfield Twp. “The greenhouse saved me, really, having my own climate to work out of. The outside wasn’t terrible. Certain crops, I lost everything.”

His winter squash did well, as did his peppers and some tomatoes, though he’s done with tomatoes already, he said. Usually, he can harvest tomatoes until the frost.

He lost most of his watermelons and cantaloupes, however, “the ones I did get were delicious. They were great, but the yields just weren’t what they should have been,” he said.

Pumpkins are a dry-weather crop and their blossoms bloom for a short time in the mornings, John Roba said. So a combination of mildew from the damp and cloudy skies meant about one-third of his 82 acres for pumpkins didn’t yield as much as they could.

Attractions such as entertainment, games and food as well as a carousel — also new this year — at Roba Family Orchard, a separate attraction in nearby Scott Twp., give the Robas a diverse portfolio to lean on when one facet of their business doesn’t perform as expected.

On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people streamed in through the gates.

Cadence Moore, 11, of Clarks Summit, munched on chicken fingers and French fries with her mom, Tiffany Moore, and brother, Greyson, at a picnic table.

The family, who moved from Wisconsin a few years ago, buys a season pass so they can visit whenever they want.

“It’s a great place to come, not only on the weekends, but after school for a couple hours,” Tiffany Moore said.

Brown diversified with his Purple Pepper Deli on North Keyser Avenue. He also sells his crops at farmers’ markets around the region and through a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, group that he runs.

Aside from putting a wet blanket over the growing season, the rain has offered smaller windows for harvesting and fieldwork, something both farmers said dragged down operations.

“That was probably the biggest struggle of the year. If it wasn’t raining on a market day, it was raining the day before,” Brown said, explaining it made picking miserable or impossible.

Moisture just happens to be this year’s, problem, he said. If it wasn’t rain, it’d be early frost or drought or some other calamity. The key is to take it in stride.

“It’s mother nature, man, you can never get too upset over it,” he said.

Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc

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