Sunday, October 17, 2021

Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch celebrates 30 years of fall fun

Jan Balekian never imagined having a pumpkin patch. After all, the longtime Flower Mound resident didn’t know the first thing about buying pumpkins, and certainly not by the truckload. She also didn’t see herself single-handedly crafting mazes out of hundreds of pounds of hay, painting dozens of plywood cutouts of Disney characters, having a choo choo train in her front yard, or hosting nearly 200,000 families a year on her 25-acre property.

No. Not in a million years. But here she is, starting her 30th year as the lady behind the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch.

“People call me the Pumpkin Lady,” the 72-year-old said with a laugh. “I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m able. I mean, to be completely honest, I don’t know what I’d do now if I quit doing it. I love it that much.”

The patch — which runs from October 1 through Halloween at 5100 Cross Timbers Rd. (FM 1171) and Lusk Lane — grew from nothing. As the story goes, Jan had just grounded her youngest daughter Krista for wrecking the car and put her to work in the garden for the entire summer. They set up a small cash register on the front porch and sold vegetables to the neighbors. And at the end of the season, they’d get a load of pumpkins for decoration. But people kept gobbling them up, too. Then came her mother-in-law, a school librarian who’d routinely take her students on field trips to a pumpkin patch in Sanger. Tired of the long drive, she and Jan got to talking, and Jan offered to host her own patch.

“I had the room, so I told her to just bring the kids here,” Jan recalled. “Even then, I decorated minimally.”

That was in 1991. Today, the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch is routinely ranked as one of the top pumpkin patches in the country. Last year alone, 180,000 families flocked to the patch. Jan charges $10 per vehicle on weekdays and $20 per vehicle on Saturdays and Sundays. But you can stuff each car with as many family members and friends as you want, and once you’re in, all the activities you see on the farm are free.

That includes thousands of pumpkins — Jan has them specially grown and shipped in for her patch — and activities such as hayrides, corn mazes, face painting, farm animals, kid-friendly characters, food vendors, and more. There’s a Beauty and the Beast house, a Cinderella carriage, a measuring scarecrow, and over 100 wagons.

“We have 25 acres here, and I’ll tell you, we use every bit of it,” Jan said. “I just try to find things that appeal to the kids, and I can’t tell you how long I’ve spent making some of this stuff. If you Google the Top 50 Disney characters, I’ve got them. If you Google the Top 100, I’ve got those, too. I got more into it every year and kept adding stuff.”

She added, “It just grew and grew. It just shows how much people enjoy family-friendly environments.”

And it’s been a family affair behind the scenes, too. While Jan has done the majority of the heavy lifting over the years to make the patch what it is today, she’s had her fair share of help. In the early days, her parents, James and Irene Wilson, would come up on the weekends from Houston. James built a train and little red truck and would then sit happily on the front porch to watch all the kids laugh and play.

Irene was known as the drink lady and got just as much enjoyment out of seeing so many families come to visit.

As the years went by, both of Jan’s daughters, Krista and Lori, put in their time helping out with the patch.

“It’s just so gratifying to see the kids having this much fun at our patch,” Jan said. “My dad got so much happiness from watching them. I even joked with my girls that once my time is up, it’s up to them to run the patch.”

She added, “We’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

The Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch’s history hasn’t always been a smooth hayride, though. Despite what some may think, the patch is not funded by the town of Flower Mound in any way. All costs are covered by Jan. In fact, for the first 8-10 years, she didn’t charge a dime to visit her patch. Instead, she financed the entire operation solely off of pumpkin sales. As that business model became less and less feasible, and she began hiring more people to help keep the patch organized and fun, she was forced to start charging a flat rate per car to keep up with rising costs.

Surprisingly, she heard grumbling from many visitors who weren’t used to paying to enter the patch.

She weathered that storm fairly easily, mainly because it was obvious that the patch was the best ticket in town. But the financial struggles continued. In an interview with The Cross Timbers Gazette a few years ago, she admitted that her finances were running thin. She had an opportunity to sell part of her property — a section, mind you, that wouldn’t have impacted the patch — to CVS Pharmacy. But her rezoning plan was denied by the town.

“The money I was spending was just unbelievable,” Jan said. “But even then, I love my patch and making kids smile. I don’t ever want to nickel and dime people.”

Even with those struggles, Jan insists the patch isn’t going anywhere — and neither is she. She joked that her mother, whom she cares for every day — is in her 90s, which means she’s still got many more years left to continue making kids laugh and providing something special to the community she loves.

“I never dreamed it would be this big,” Jan said. “I literally held it in my front yard when we first started, and it’s just snowballed from there. I’ve got kids who used to come here when they were little, and they’re now working at the patch as teenagers. They love it, and I do, too. It’s funny how things can evolve. I really enjoy doing this.”

Reservations are required to visit the pumpkin patch. Book your visit at flowermoundpumpkinpatch.com.

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