fall pumpkin festivals in Illinois

Fall generally bums me out, but there are a few things that help me get over the end of summer. One of those things is a good ol’ pumpkin farm. This year, I got a head start on the post-summer blues, and decided to hit my first one on September 15th—before summer actually ended. I then proceeded to frequent another one (twice) over the next two weekends. Three weekends, three trips, two total pumpkin farms. The following is a rundown of my visits. Call it proactive immersion therapy. Fall was coming (and now it’s here!), so I decided to face it, head-on, with as much fun as possible.

If you’re looking at me with the side-eye over how frequently I’ve been p-farming so far, knock it off. I have a two-year old boy, and another on the way. Not another two-year old; another boy. Well, one day he’ll be two, but not right away. Ugh, you know what I mean! Anyway, we live in a 1250 square feet, two bedroom, city condo (which we rent). It’s a great place, but there’s not a lot of room for…activity. So, when the weather is at least halfway decent, we need to get out of the house. Normally, it doesn’t matter where. Just…anywhere…not in our place.

My kid will literary jump off the walls. Along with climb the counter, dump out all his toys, manhandle our toothbrushes, climb on top of us, and ruthlessly demand that we watch this bizarre Russian cartoon on YouTube named “Booba” that he happened upon while watching another, slightly less weird French cartoon named “Chicky.” And that’s all by 9 am. A pumpkin farm sounds like the perfect place to let him loose. Besides, pumpkin farms are great. There’s food, and…well, really, food is all you need. But, in addition, there’s entertainment, and shopping, and thrills, and tradition. Plus, OUR SON IS TWO AND WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! He’s the best. He really is. So much energy, though!

pumpkin farms

Greg Stegeman

So, there we were on Saturday the 15th, ready to roll. We decided to go to Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm and Fall Fest. This spot in Chicago’s southwest suburbs is a gem. First things first: there’s ample free parking. Coming from the city, that’s huge. Second, if you check in on social media, you get a discount. Wait a minute, what kind of farmers are these? Parking lots? Admission? Social media discounts? This ain’t your average mom-and-pop farmstand.

As you enter the premises, you’re greeted with a massive fresh pumpkin display, some animatronic skeletons playing banjos and guitars, and paved paths!

Is it weird that I’m really impressed by the paved paths? I’m just saying, that’s pretty nice. That means my shoes will be clean upon leaving, and strollers are a go! That’s so clutch. Even if the little guy isn’t in the stroller a whole lot, it comes in handy for hauling all his gear. Kids have a lot of gear. Okay, I gotta tell you, this place is on point.

As we wandered around, we noticed a petting zoo. On the way to check it out, we encountered this:

Bengtson's Pumpkin Farm animatronic

Greg Stegeman

In case you can’t quite make it out, it’s an animatronic, mulleted…country…guy…vomiting into a 30-gallon bucket. The retching sound effects and the green liquid coming out of his mouth give it added realism. I gotta say, my adolescent brain found this extremely amusing.

After checking out a few little fun/haunted houses on the way to the petting zoo, we finally got to see some animals. What we saw was actually pretty amazing. There were goats. There were sheep. But the pigs were incredible. Why? Because they were only a few days old. That’s right! We saw few-days old piglets! They were absolutely adorable. Dads can think things are adorable too, you know!

Speaking of pigs, you know what else we saw? Pig races! Presumably, the racing pigs were not related to the piglets or their mom. Then again, unless you’re Maury, you never can tell. I’m really not sure what it is about a pig race that makes a pumpkin farm go, “Yeah, we need those,” but it has entertainment value, especially in the suburbs of Chicago where we just don’t see stuff like that.

pig racing

Greg Stegeman

You might be wondering, “Who won?” I think it was either the number four or number five pig. Oh, wait, no! It was us. We won for having witnessed such a spectacle!

As we continued down the path, we saw tons of other things. There were giant slides, carnival-like rides, playground equipment, and pony-rides. There were pumpkins for sale, apple cider doughnuts, gold mining (the gold wasn’t real), wild turkeys, goats with access to a trampoline (what?!), and BBQ. Favorites in our family, though? The tractor ride, and the corn box. The coolest thing about the tractor ride? The punkin chucker. “What’s a ‘punkin chucker,’” you ask? Well, it’s a machine that gets loaded with pumpkins, then launches them somewhere between 50 and 100 yards into the distance. Yes, it’s over-the-top. Yes, it’s totally awesome.

Bengtson Farms pumpkin chucker

Greg Stegeman

As for the corn box, this was the clear favorite of my son. Imagine a giant sandbox. The most massive sandbox you’ve ever seen. Then, imagine that, instead of sand, it’s filled with hard corn kernels. Yeah, that’s the corn box. You can jump in (carefully, and maybe out of sight of farm staff) and slowly sink into the corn. It’s a lot of fun, but it gets everywhere. In shoes. In socks. Even in diapers. In fact, there was a moment or two in the last several weeks when I thought I may have made popcorn in the (clothes) dryer. But that would be ridiculous. Or would it?

corn box (popcorn sandbox) at pumpkin farm fall festival

Greg Stegeman

All in all, it was a fun day. Bengtson’s delivered loads of animatronic fun, rides, animals, pumpkins, and even some learning. Around the joint, there are signs outlining the life cycle of different fall foods, like pumpkins and corn, and other fun facts. How many places provide amusement and education? Who knows, but this pumpkin farm is one of them!

After our day at Bengtson’s, we looked for another spot the next weekend (actually, the next two weekends) that would provide the same amount of fun and excitement for our rambunctious boy. We settled on another pumpkin farm: Goebbert’s Farm and Garden Center. This northwestern suburban Chicago fall staple has a lot going for it. For the sake of this article, I’ll touch on some of the more unique aspects.

Good GourdFrom Blue to Cheese, Get Familiar with These Under-the-Radar Squashes and PumpkinsFirst, this spot is a real-deal garden center, full of produce and farmhouse favorites. The pumpkin and squash selection here is amazing. Acorn, butternut, spaghetti, buttercup, and carnival squash are all for sale. As are white, Jarrahdale, Long Island Cheese, Cinderella, smaller/pie, wee-be-littles, and regular old carving pumpkins. It’s a pretty impressive selection that you can’t find just anywhere.

In addition, Goebbert’s has a wide variety of farm fresh goodies, from apples and corn, to pies and preserves. They even have special pumpkin-specific products, like pumpkin butter, pumpkin bread mix, and pumpkin pancake mix. Whoa!

You know what the best part is? There’s no charge to access the produce/garden center. Of course, if you want to take something home, you have to buy it, but you can browse for free.

Goebbert’s is much more than a produce stand, though. They have loads of attractions. To access them, you have to buy tickets, but cost is pretty comparable to that of Bengtson’s—maybe a touch more. They have the standard stuff, like the tractor ride and the corn box. They have a petting zoo, a magic show, and hay stacks for kids to climb on. They even have a playground, a bounce pad, pony rides, pig rides, and a haunted house. The things that make Goebbert’s unique, however, are the following: 1) The aforementioned produce selection; 2) Camel rides; 3) A giraffe (because when I think pumpkin farm, I think, “There better be a giraffe.”); 4) A great bakery; and 5) A mechanical pumpkin-eating dinosaur.

mechanical pumpkin eating dinosaur

Greg Stegeman

We had so much fun the first weekend, that we went back out the next. Currently, we have a streak of three straight weekends going to a pumpkin farm. Will the streak continue this weekend? Only time will tell. I’m guessing that we’ll be venturing to a pumpkin farm at least once more this season. Who’s to say it won’t be this weekend? After all, the weather looks alright, and our two-year old (who is sitting on my lap as I finish this up at 10:35 pm because he won’t go to sleep!) will still need something to do!

While these spots might seem a little bit over-the-top, I wouldn’t have ‘em any other way. They are designed to be bigger than life. They are designed to be in your face. They are designed to deliver something out of the ordinary. They are designed to delight patrons both young and old. And you know what? These two do an excellent job. Whatever your family’s fall traditions, I hope you’re able to get to pumpkin farm this season, and share in some of the fun.

Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.

Related Video: When to Carve Your Pumpkins and How to Preserve Them So They Last

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Greg is a Chicago guy who likes to cook, dine, and help others navigate their food choices. Why? Because food is an integral part of our lives, and he's the best version of himself when he's well fed. When he's not writing for Chowhound, he's writing about handling the domestic responsibilities of a husband and stay-at-home parent for his new online community. Visit philosophyofdad.com.
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