October is a busy month at Tate Farms in Meridianville, Alabama. In 1996, the farm started their pumpkin tour business and have become known for their educational farm programs for younger students and their public tours for the whole family. The wives of the farm men run the Cotton Pickin Pumpkins operation: Sherri Tate, Jackie Tate, Michele Tate and Cristall Brown.
It's not unusual for Tate Farms to see over 1,500 visitors in one day. This pace is pretty steady for the five weeks each year that the pumpkin farm is open to the public. Seasonal help is hired to fill the special needs during the tourist season on the farm.
The center of attention is the 45 acres of pumpkins and gourds grown on the land. Students are given a lesson on the crop and then driven out to the field to pick out and then cut their own pumpkins. Some varieties found on Tate Farms are Ole Zeb, Autumn King, Gold Medal, Phantom, Appalachian, Baby Boo, Cinderella, Wee-b-Little, Lumina, Casper, Gold Fever, Pik-a-pie, Fairy Tale, Jack Pot, Dill's Atlantic Giant, Big Max and Jarrahdale. Casper and Baby Boo are white. All the pumpkins on the farm are hand-harvested.
Other features of the farm that visitors enjoy include include: hay bale slide; a barnyard playground with cotton picker slides, mini John Deere tricycles, horse tire swings, mini barns and more; pumpkin chunkin (or a gourd gun!) which shoots pumpkins and gourds using an air gun.the hay maze, the exotic animals, the shelled corn bin where kids can jump and play, a bin filled with cotton to jump in once the cotton is harvested, and a fully-stocked gift shop where you can purchase a cookbook of the Tate Family Favorites.
Jackie Tate said that the family started the pumpkin business to help educate city children about farm life and help to show them how to appreciate the work that farmers do and the influence that they have on everyone's daily life.
The Tate Family first came to Madison County in 1867 from Warren County, Tennessee. Homer Tate began farming in 1948. Tate Farms (a joint venture partnership) was formed in 1987 with Homer and his sons: Mike, Steve and Jeff Tate, and his cousin Pat Brown. Each partner brings expertise to a special area of managing and running the farm.
Homer is still active and lends insight into the day to day management decisions. Mike, an Alabama A & M crop science major, primarily prepares the comprehensive cropping plan each year, determines and schedules field work, works closely on conservation compliance issues, and manages all farm program business. Steve, an Auburn University agriculture economics major, handles accounting, tax management, marketing, risk management, credit acquisition, labor issues, and specialty crops. Jeff, an Alabama A & M soil science major, develops the fertility program, handles all scheduled maintenance and repairs, services and operates all irrigation pivots, and manages the labor. Pat, a computer science major from Alabama A & M, records all field activity, procures crop inputs, schedules irrigation, and manages the pesticide application program.
The farm consists of 6,000 acres all together with 45 acres of pumpkins. The principal crop has always been cotton. There are currently 9 center pivot irrigation systems in operation, watering approximately 1,250 acres.
The site of the farmstead was once a thriving trading area for local sharecroppers, as they took advantage of the general store, a blacksmith shop, a gr4ist mill, a saw mill, seed cleaning and other related services offered by John Patterson, grandfather of Homer Tate. Patterson built the farm house in 1907. In the 1930's, the house became the home of Will and Carrie Tate, parents of Homer, until 1994. Currently, the house is occupied by Pat and Cristall Brown, farm partners and great grandchildren of the original owners.
Tate Farms Programs & Activities on next page.