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Field of Dreams of a Pastoral Past


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It used to be that summer was my only season for outdoors activities. When Autumn chilled the air, dislodged the leaves, and freshened up the TV lineups, my outdoor activities dwindled down to watching football on a bar’s balcony, getting the mail, and reaching out the window of my Toyota Celica to grab my McDouble. I didn’t even like to check the weather online.I

Nowadays, though, I’m trying to stay outdoorsy year round. Autumn offers a (select few) uniquely Autumn activities, mostly tied to the harvest. Farms all over Colorado set up farm-themed fun zones full of hayrides, punkin chunkin’, haunted corn mazes and petting zoos. (See list.) These are great for kids who are enthusiastic for fall and nature, and for adults who are interested in agriculture, farming, throat allergens, burrs stuck to socks, prickles on your skin, or insects crawling up your leg. The most ubiquitous form of entertainment is the pumpkin patch. At a pumpkin patch, you bump your car down a remote, rutted country road, then pay a dozen dollars to muddy your shoes, prick your fingers and tweak your back lugging home a vegetable that is available near the checkout at King Soopers for five bucks.

This helps you feel connected to the land and helps farmers bring in extra income. There are jobs in the field: including zombie for Zombie Paintball and ghoul for haunted corn mazes. There’s actually a word for all this: agri-tourism or agri-tainment. See, agriculture is no longer just an invention that raised humanity out of the food chain and undergirds civilization; it is a way to kill a boring Saturday night. The Penn State College of Agriculture Science estimates that 50,000 farms in America engage in agri-tainment.

Baseball became popular when Industrial workers in cities in the nineteenth century were nostalgic for a simpler, more pastoral time. Hipsters in Boulder, people who always lived in cities, keep chickens in their backyard. And I was motoring on Highway 287 just south of Longmont, having just finished two hours of therapy, mostly complaining about a job spent pushing keys, when I spotted the most quintessentially Spirit of Fall scene: A field of green, with bright orange pumpkins strewn about, like cannonballs at Gettysburg, or orange golf balls on a driving range. An old green tractor slowly pulled a large wagon. Two workers walked alongside, reaching down and tossing pumpkins in.

I slammed the car into a driveway and tromped into the field. I approached the workers by the wagon. This isn’t 1880, so of course the workers were Mexican. “Hello,” I said in Spanish. “I try to do some exercise outside every day. Can I help you?” The man, whose name was Jose, his bandana soaked with sweat, looked puzzled. “You want to help?” he asked. “Yes. For the spirit of…” I searched for the Spanish phrase for The Spirit of the Fall. “For the soul?” Jose asked. “Yes,” I said. “That’s it exactly. The soul.” He put his palms face out, the international symbol for, Go ahead, I can’t help it if you’re crazy.

The wheels of the grinding tractor were up to my chest and caked in mud. Jose’s boots were bowing and ripping at the seams; Samuel’s baseball cap was soaked in sweat. They work seven days a week for $8 an hour. Meanwhile, I wore my best, most slimming yoga pants and a J Crew V-neck, both because I am vain and because I don’t usually deal with dirt — except the rings of my bathtub — and the main agricultural products I handle are spinach salad and cannabis.

Counterfeit farmer though I was, there was something bone-deeply satisfying about picking pumpkins. You underhand the pumpkin toward the wagon, and it has a pleasing roll to the center of the target. It’s a bit like skeeball. Or bowling. I said so to Jose. He laughed. “Except there’s no points,” said Jose.

As Jose drove the tractor between furrows, and Samuel and I hung off the side, I looked into their sun-colored, sweat-soaked faces. Do they need therapy? But it’s easy to idealize these men; harder to be them. The National Center for Farmworker Health reports that health problems among migrants is high. I asked Jose and Samuel if they did any other kind of exercise, something to take care of themselves. Some pilates, perhaps? Silks? Barre? Samuel said he was busy in his off hours looking after his barriga — his beer gut. It looked like he was doing an excellent job.

After 45 minutes, I was appropriately winded, sweaty and content. The day was over. My fantasy was over. The shift in circumstances gave me a nice shift in perspective. First, the decency and work ethic of Jose and Samuel makes you realize how thoroughly Donald Trump has blow-dried his brains out. And you remember there is a world outside your screen and your status-seeking. Jose took a picture of me and gave me three pumpkins. In my First World mind, I had contributed to the great fall harvest, returned to the pastoral roots I suppose I have, and got to be a Man of the People. Most importantly, I get to brag about how much of a Man-of-the-People I am in this column.

AGRI-TAINMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Anderson Farms, Erie
Anderson boasts Colorado’s longest-running corn maze, which has eight miles of trails and is in the shape of a downhill ski racer. There’s a “Farm Scene Investigation” (a kind of whodunnit on the Farm), a free hayride, hourly pumpkin cannon launching, kids’ train, and pedal carts. At night there’s Terror in the Corn and a Zombie Paintball hunt. Zombie paintball is totally worth a Google. $10-$13 for adults for general admission, which includes many of the activities, though not Terror in the Corn or paintball. 6728 Co Rd 3 1/4, Erie, (303) 828-5210.

Cottonwood Farm, Boulder
Pumpkin patch, straw-bale maze for kids, petting zoo that includes bunnies, kittens, Rocco the donkey and Bentley the miniature horse. Two-acre corn maze. Sells Christmas trees starting at Thanksgiving. Free admission. $3 hay ride. 1535 N 75th St., Boulder, (720) 890-4766

Rock Creek Farm, Broomfield
Corn maze, bouncy castle and slide, petting zoo, pumpkin patch. Pumpkin bread, caramel apples and cotton candy for sale. Free admission. Corn maze $6 for kids, $9 for adults. 2005 South 112th Street, Broomfield, 303-465-9565.

Hergenreder Farms, Longmont
Corn maze, hay bale maze for kids, pumpkin patch, and free admission. 13332 Co Rd 5, Longmont, CO 80504, (303) 776-7615

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