“My parents own a pumpkin farm in Nebraska.” This line usually earns me at least a confused pause when out-of-state people ask where I am from. I take a secret delight in watching their faces as the implications of my parents’ occupation sink into their minds, so I pause a few seconds more before continuing. But, unfortunately, like any cliff-note version of a story, my one minute introduction is doomed to inadequacy. Vala’s Pumpkin Patch offers an experience that defies explanation, and only the limited but fortunate population of eastern Nebraska has been able to experience it first-hand. They, in turn, smile knowingly at the simple mention of my last name. Everyone has a favorite story, everyone has a special memory, everyone wants to tell me, and I love to hear. Now, it is my turn to tell a story. It is the story of a growing family business with five words in its mission statement: Creating lasting memories and traditions.
My Dad, Tim Vala, a man who was raised in the city of Omaha and earned a B.A. Degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Education, laughs now as he recalls his first foray into the world of farming. He bought a tractor he didn’t know how to drive home, he planted fruits and vegetables he didn’t know how to grow, but somewhere along the line he created a revolutionary farming business. Research, self- education, and perseverance were his most useful tools, and specialization became the key to his business success. Today, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch has grown into a 212-acre operation, with nearly 55 acres of pumpkins planted every year.
Every member of the Vala family contributed to the growth of the business, providing both special skills and cheap labor. During the early years of operation, Grandma Lois created all the artwork on the farm and made crafts to sell in the gift shop. Grandpa Ernie built buildings and worked as the resident electrician. Together, they ran the Pumpkin Café, the first and only food location at Vala’s for several years. Grandma dipped caramel apples out of a double-boiler, Grandpa stoked the grill just right to perfectly char every hot dog, caramel apples and hot dogs sold for $1.00 each, and they were always served with an exhausted smile.
Jan Vala, also a graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University, started out supporting the family, providing a steady paycheck from her job as a school psychologist while Vala’s was growing. She was also responsible for all marketing, merchandise ordering, personnel organization and family accounting, a laborious list of tasks that she still performs, only now she is working for Vala’s full-time.
We daughters always did whatever we were asked in the beginning. We all passed through an amateur face-painting phase, we all priced merchandise for Mom in the summer, we all spent some time toiling on the farm for Dad, we all graduated to super-duper seasonal employees, and we all still love working at Vala’s. During Vala’s Pumpkin Patch Fall Festival 2012, Kelsey Vala will be living and working in New York City.. Kyla Vala has joined the Vala's staff as the Director of Fun; the one who arranges all the fun events, and daily activities during the Fall season. I, Kirsten Vala, will be flying between my home and Omaha so that I can work at Vala's during the fall season.
The family business may have outgrown its meager labor force, but traces of family commitment still linger. Grandma Lois’ cutout signs are retouched every year and Grandpa Ernie still checks the electrical wiring in new buildings. Each of us daughters has a different food location named after us; Kirsten’s Coffee House was created in 2003 solely through the efforts of me and my Grandpa Smith. Kyla's makes much of the ice cream sold at Kyla's Custard and Ice Cream Shop. Kelsey's Sweet Shoppe has been around since Kelsey was 10 years old. Although many other employees have been added to the Vala’s payroll, the business’ main office is still on the ground floor of our house and interviews and meetings often take place at the kitchen table.
The business of Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Fall Festival may be hard to explain in a few sentences, but its goals are not. The result of our year-long preparation is one whirl-wind month, when guests visit us to experience a spectacular Fall Festival. People love the caramel apples, the hay-rack rides, and the Pigtucky Derby Pig Races, but it’s the memories and traditions that keep them coming back. We take great pride in the role we play as a wholesome family entertainment destination, and we hope to continue growing and improving year after year.