Washington County pumpkin patch farms adapting to COVID-19 rules
Halloween is usually a time for trick-or-treating, haunted houses, hayrides, and corn mazes.
This year, things will be a little different, as health experts are advising against typical group activities because they could easily spread the coronavirus. Local businesses are also adapting to the changing times as they meet new requirements and guidelines.
Matt Roloff, who owns Roloff Farms in Helvetia, says the farm has taken away some activities, such as the classic wagon ride, but there will be other adventures in its place.
"We are offering what we call a scenic walk tour," explained Roloff. "It's a one-way quarter-mile trail, and it takes you in between our barns and our vista bluff that kind of looks out over the countryside. It has a lot of vignettes for photo opportunities."
The one thing that isn't changing this year: the pumpkin patch.
People are still allowed to pick a pumpkin at the farm, but Roloff hopes people don't touch every pumpkin they see.
"We're hoping people pick the one they want and then take that one," he added.
The farm is also limiting the number of food vendors and requiring people to purchase tickets with a two-hour time slot ahead of their visit. Roloff says they're adding more time slots after realizing people can safely be six feet apart.
"Most people come with their families, and we call that a pod (or) a group of people," he noted. "We require everybody to wear a mask and we have dozens of little sanitizing stations all around. We're trying to be very COVID-aware."
Once people arrive on the farm, staff scan the ticket's barcode from a phone or digital device for less contact between visitors and employees.
The ticketing system also helps Roloff manage the number and flow of people through the farm. It's received praise from Washington County officials.
"Many farms are following Phase 1 guidance to keep their customers safe," said Dr. Christina Baumann, Washington County deputy health officer. "We encourage community members to pick their pumpkins at these farms."
In a press release on Friday, Oct. 2, Baumann suggests skipping traditional trick-or-treating and opting for safer activities instead.
This includes hiding candy in the backyard for a scavenger hunt, organizing an outdoor costume contest, or showing a scary movie where people can stay six feet apart.
"Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season, which means more opportunities for people to gather indoors and participate in activities that could put them, their families and our community at risk," said Baumann. "Most of us are wearing face coverings, maintaining our distance and keeping our gatherings small, and we need to continue taking these precautions during holiday celebrations."
Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties are tied together and are still in Phase 1 of Gov. Kate Brown's three-tiered reopening plan.
Indoor and outdoor cultural, civic and faith gatherings are limited to 50 people, and indoor social get-togethers are limited to 10 people.
In Phase 1, activities such as haunted houses, hayrides and corn mazes are not allowed.
But sometimes safety doesn't always mean profitability.
"This year, we'll do only 20% of our normal business," said Roloff frankly. "We're not rejoicing about that, but we are rejoicing that we're able to get anybody through here even though this won't be a profit year for us. We'll most certainly register a loss."
Roloff Farms is not the only farm feeling a hit financially.
Plumper Pumpkin Patch and Tree Farm near Hillsboro dropped its prices this year compared to last year due to the lack of activities, says owner Jim Kessinger. The farm is also encouraging guests to pre-purchase tickets online.
"We have reduced our capacity, so we'll not be as crowded as it has been in the past," he said. "That goes against every bone in my body to turn customers away like that, but that's what we're doing."
Kessinger has been working to get the farm ready to open for pumpkin season for the last several months. This includes setting up new hand sanitizer stations and one-way paths for people to walk on.
Despite not having hayrides, pig races, live music or barrel trains, the farm will still provide a pumpkin patch and animal loop for people to enjoy.
"We've had pretty positive responses from people," said Kessinger. "People like how we're trying to be careful and take care of them."
Roloff is also happy he can provide the community a space to stretch their legs and get out into the open air. He only requests that others follow the COVID-19 guidelines.
"We don't want the guests to get sick," Roloff added. "We don't want our family to get sick, we don't want the staff to get sick. It's highly contagious. … We're encouraging everybody to do the right thing."
The Roloff Farms' Scenic Walk and Pumpkin Season Experience is open 10 a.m. until dusk on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 30. The farm is located on 23985 N.W. Grossen Drive in Hillsboro.
Plumper Patch and Tree Farm is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays at 11435 N.W. Old Cornelius Pass Road.
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