Thirty years ago, 5-year-old Gabe Knapton had an idea — his family's small u-pick raspberry farm should expand to include pumpkins.
He grew a few rows of pumpkins and sold them after school at a roadside stand in rural Hennepin County.
"We always ran out. We never had enough," Knapton recalled.
Eventually, pumpkin sales eclipsed the berry business.
Today, Knapton and his brother, Andrew, along with their parents, have turned the family hobby farm into a flourishing u-pick business, Knapton's Raspberries, Pumpkins & Orchard. Visitors can stop by from mid-June to late autumn to buy locally grown raspberries, strawberries, apples, cherries, pears, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins.
The big draw for many visitors: The Knaptons grow hundreds of varieties of pumpkins, including many hybrids that Gabe Knapton engineered himself. Also, the Knaptons allow visitors to venture into the fields to cut their own pumpkins from the vine, pluck apples and cherries from the trees and even snip a bouquet of zinnias from the garden.
"People like to come and get something unique and pick it where it grew," said Gabe Knapton.
Pumpkins, raspberries and apples are now ripe for the picking. On average, the farm harvests 14,000 pounds of pumpkin per acre.
Patrons pay by the pound, with pumpkins selling for 35 cents a pound. When it comes to pumpkin picking, bigger is better, with customers wrestling 40- and 50-pound pumpkins up to the counter, Knapton said.
A wagon full of pumpkins at the roadside on Hwy. 55 in Greenfield beckons customers. Pam Herman was a recent one.
"I want to get mine out before anyone else," Herman said as she paid for three pumpkins in three different shades.
The Knaptons farm about 70 acres. Family patriarch Mel Knapton started the horticulture program at Century College in White Bear Lake and still teaches there. It was his idea to start the farm, planting raspberry bushes on 2.5 acres in Greenfield around 1980.
Mom Francine Knapton and her four children worked the farm every summer.
"It was a way for the kids to learn how to work and for me to be home with them," she said. "They are hard workers, all of them."
One for every taste
One day last week, Gabe Knapton walked the fields. A wet start to the growing season posed challenges, but now fields are thick with pumpkins and vines.
Gabe Knapton bent to inspect a pumpkin.
"You can tell when they're ripe when there is a nice orange spot on the ground where it sits," he said.
The fields are a mix of pumpkin varieties and colors — tall and skinny, short and fat and warty.
Even the ugly ones will find a good home.
"This one has a flat back," Knapton said. "Someone will like it."