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Photograph by Pete Saporito
good gourd! : Pumpkins are gathering by the hundreds to audition for Halloween.

Stalking the Great Pumpkin

The pumpkin patches of North Santa Cruz County offer good gourds a-plenty.

By Jessica Lussenhop

Convention dictates each stoop needs only a pumpkin or two come Halloween time, but with all the fine organic gourd purveyors to choose from along Highway 1 north, it may be worth venturing a U-pick pumpkin-crawl, especially as Santa Cruz affords the singular pleasure of running through the hay with a perfect view of the sun slipping into the Pacific.

First stop out of downtown on the right-hand side will be the Rodoni Farms patch (four miles north on Hwy 1, Santa Cruz; 831.426.6438), a gigantic slope dotted with pumpkins of all sizes, from the mini-mes all the way up to the $70 behemoths. Besides the hundreds of potential jack-o'-lanterns, Rodoni also has a healthy collection of squash, from spaghetti and butternut to turban and pink banana, and, if you get there early enough, freshly picked Brussels sprouts, artichokes and leeks, which can be seen growing in the verdant fields across the highway. Stick the kids in the five-acre corn maze which, depending on how smart they are, buys 15 to 45 minutes' worth of shoptalk with the knowledgeable staff. For truly dedicated infernal decorators, small and large bales of hay are also up for grabs.

Just before Davenport, Fambrini's Fresh Farm Produce (three miles south of Davenport on Hwy 1; 831.423.5891) appears on the right-hand side, and they've still got some of the summer spoils in addition to a selection of pumpkins. The strawberries that made them famous are still available, and--though dwindling in numbers--still delicious. Pick up your entire week's worth of produce for less than in town, including squash, avocados, peaches and romaine lettuce. They've also got $5 bunches of lavender to help ward off the deathly hallows. A half mile past Davenport is the second Rodoni Farms site, called Seaside Pumpkins (a half mile north of Davenport on Hwy 1, 831.426.6438), on the left-hand side of the highway, with the ocean just beyond a large patch of artichokes. While the selection is smaller than the first Rodoni site, there's a slightly better view and an unconscionably good-looking boy on hand to help--you just didn't hear it from me.

Past the cement plant, make a right at Swanton Road to indulge in the last of the U-pick strawberries at the Swanton Berry Farm Stand (approximately at 106 Swanton Road, Davenport; 831.469.8804); just look for the yellow pick-up truck. The more rain there is the less time the berries have, but luckily they've also got pumpkins in the field ready for perusal--those that haven't ended up in the stand's fresh-baked pies, anyway. As one of the first farms to voluntarily unionize, there's also plenty of history to take in while you stuff your face. Mark the calendar for November, when their second location, Swanton Coast Ways (640 Cabrillo Hwy, Pescadero; 831.469.8804), opens up for U-pick kiwi season about 25 miles north of town, near the entrance to Aņo Nuevo State Park. Come for the kiwi, stay for the moth watching when most other U-picks have closed for the season.

Further up Swanton Road is the Cal Poly-run Swanton Pacific Ranch organic apple orchard (125 Swanton Road, Davenport; 831.458.5410), where students slave over trees instead of textbooks, and U-pickers enjoy the fruits of their labor from Thursday until Monday. Ginger Gold, Lodi, Royal Gala, Red Delicious and Granny Smith are just some of the varietals grown here, but availability varies.

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