The beloved Halloween season is upon us, though this year it’s anything but familiar. Jeff Walton, owner at Waltons Farms pumpkin patch in Camas can attest to that.
The 12-acre patch, on Walton’s 52-acre farm at 1617 N.E. 267th Ave, at one point faced closure due to COVID-19 — but not just because of gathering restrictions. Earlier in the year, he had a hard time buying pumpkin seeds to grow the pumpkins that sustain the operation and bring in extra income for him and his wife.
“These are vendors I have dealt with for years and years,” said Walton, 57. “But a lot of them are working from home. They didn’t know what was going on. Systems weren’t in place to track, and trucking companies were doing different things. I wasn’t sure if I could get parts for my tractor. It was scary. You don’t realize how much you buy stuff until the stores aren’t there anymore. The time was ticking. If I got the seeds much later, it wouldn’t have worked.”
It eventually worked out. Walton got the seeds — and on Aug. 28, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office lifted some restrictions for agritourism operations such as pumpkin patches, including allowing train rides. This year, Walton planted around 6,000 pumpkins on the land and expects to sell out.
“Oh my God. We weren’t going to open if we couldn’t do the train because we have people come every year just to do the train,” Walton said. “We didn’t want kids to show up and ask, ‘Where’s the train?’ and be mad at us. We wipe it down every time. When it comes in, we isolate it and wipe it down. Then we load it.”
The Columbian caught up with Walton to learn more.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in the Midwest in Kansas City, Mo. But I spent my summers out here with my grandparents, and I got the bug for farming from them, so when I got old enough to leave home, I packed my car and moved out here. That was Aug. 15 of 1984. It was an important day to me to come out here. I’m educated in running businesses, but my true passion has always been farming. My grandfather was a horse trainer. I started training horses when I was 5. I just wanted to follow his footsteps. Back in the ’80s it was hard to farm and make money, so I ran a couple companies.
When did you start the patch?
I started the pumpkin patch 14 years ago. I have a little patch of land in front of my house. I have a son who I’ve tried hard over the years to teach business and farming to. He couldn’t do animals because he’s allergic to most of them, so I planted pumpkins out there and I told him he could have half the revenue if he could grow it and sell it. We made money and people loved it. We kept growing from there.
I noticed that in some spots, the name of the business is written as Walton Farms, but in others, it’s Waltons. Which is it?
Walmart contacted us a while back to let us know that they own Walton. They said, “We own it. You can lease it.” So we put an “S” on it and made everybody happy. It’s Walton Farms LLC to the state but Waltons Farms to everybody else.
Do you do other farming?
We still have cattle. I do have six draft horses. They’re just for my pleasure; I don’t sell them anymore or anything like that. And we do a lot of hay. My wife wishes I wouldn’t do hay; it’s a hard job, but we still do that.
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How much income does the pumpkin patch give you and your family?
It’s a portion of our income. My wife works at Western Star. We have some rental income and I have some other investments too. But the pumpkin patch, we thought it wouldn’t operate this year. It certainly would hurt us. The money goes back into the farm for the most part.
How has COVID-19 impacted business?
I just couldn’t believe it. I kept saying, “No, it’ll be like the swine flu.” But when it hit, it certainly impacted us. The first thing we found out is we couldn’t get seeds. The next one was they were talking about closing all the stores and we wouldn’t be able get supplies for the irrigation season. But as time went on, we ended up getting it. We got the corn and pumpkins in late. We didn’t get the pumpkins we normally get for years; the vendor just couldn’t get it. Thank God we got the supplies to fix irrigation. The summer we kept hearing different things from the governor. The last minute, he said we could open.
How is it going so far this season?
You know, it’s amazing. We haven’t done a lot of advertising this year because we were concerned with getting too many people. So far, we have had no trouble whatsoever. I don’t want to jinx it. People are nice. They do the right thing, and they stay apart.
What are your future plans? Is retirement on the horizon?
Originally yes. This was all going to be given to the kids. I even have, down here at the end of the street, plots at Fern Prairie Cemetery. Unfortunately, due to the growth and taxation I’m enduring in Clark County, there’s no way in 10 years someone can be here farming, so we plan on going somewhere else and buying a farm and giving it to the kids. We have two houses; my kids live in one, me and my wife live in the other. My son came home with his wife. I had some medical issues a while back that took me out. Without them, it would have been hard to keep going. That’s just part of farming. You gotta have your family behind you.