For Kyle's cousin Kelsy, Vesperman Farms is all about family.
"I remember times when the fall season wasn’t so big. My family worked there - my uncles drove the tractors and us kids would just run around. We kind of had the run of the land and we just explored. It was so fun to be there and hang out and spend time with family."
"Oh," she adds, laughing as she remembers. "And there was this crazy llama. We spent a lot of time with him."
Kelsy was around for the early years of the pumpkin patch as well. "I don't remember how old I was when we first started selling pumpkins," she said, speaking of the pumpkin market the Vespermans used to run on their grandparents' yard on the corner of Madison Street in Lancaster. "No one really 'staffed' it," she said, " I remember playing with this old lock box that people would drop their money into when they were done shopping for their pumpkins."
"The pumpkins would just cover my grandma's front porch," she remembers.
When Kyle moved the pumpkins to the farm in 2002, Kelsy spent a lot of time with her family running around on the farm and making memories. She remembers, "There were the old horses, the llama, and maybe some pigs. We had this old fridge for water and soda and we'd keep candy bars in there to keep them cool in the hot summer. It was so fun."
Then in 2011, Kyle added a lean-to on the old white barn and opened the Snack Shack. He bought a donut maker and started selling more food. In a small 10x10 room, Kelsy, her friend Katrina, and Judy would sell snacks and make donuts. "Making the donuts was so fun. We had this old machine that could only cook a few at a time - not like the set up Kyle has now that can cook a lot more at one time - and sometimes we'd have to flip the donuts because the machine was rickety and we had to help the donuts along."
Over the next few years, Kyle kept adding more and more to the farm: games, food - a lot of things you see today in the fall season. "Kyle goes after his ideas, and moves towards them. He's done so well and we're all really proud of him."
She adds, "When I was a kid, Grandma's house was where we could all meet and be a family. When Grandma moved out, we sort of lost our family base. But at the farm, Kyle has created a space where we can all be a family together again. And the best part is that he's created a space where other people can have that too. It’s so special for our family that we can use the land and the space for something so positive and beneficial. We are so happy to share our history and carry on our future with all the people who visit the farm every year and make memories there."
When she was a kid, Kelsy never would have guessed this is where the farm would be today, but it is so exciting for her and her family to keep seeing the farm evolve and change every year. But as far as her relationship with Kyle goes? Well, that's stayed the same.
"I love him," she says, "but we're cousins. He can really be a pain in the butt."
This story is part of our 15-Year Features series. For more stories, click on our 15-Year Features category!
All in one weekend of May 1982, Donald and Margaret moved off the farm and Bruce and Judy moved in. While the next Vesperman generation put down their roots at the farm, Donald and Margaret settled into a house on Madison Street, the same one Kyle's cousin Eric lives in today. And for a few years all was pretty quiet at that house.
But in the late 80's, the front yard became a small market from September through Halloween. And this little farmer's market had one product: pumpkins.
Beginning in the early 80's, Bruce and Judy diversified their farming operation, raising more vegetables and selling them into smaller markets. As part of their diversification, they started a pumpkin patch and began looking for ways to sell pumpkins to people for carving, cooking, and decoration. The decision to sell pumpkins at Donald and Margaret's house in town came down to the old tried and true real estate maxim: Location, location, location. The visibility of the Madison street house made it a great location for a local market...and they knew the people living there.
The house, with its wrap-around porch and good-sized front yard, could hold a lot of pumpkins, and it filled up quickly. In those days, the family worked on the honor system. They would load up wagon after wagon of pumpkins, drive into town, and just cover the front porch and yard with orange bulbs. Sometimes they would put a "Pumpkins for Sale" sign up...sometimes they wouldn't. Sometimes they would staff the yard...sometimes they wouldn't. "Really, it was usually just an old metal coffee can with a hole in the lid," Kyle says. "People would pick up their pumpkins, leave their money, and that was kind of the whole operation." In that sea of pumpkins, the Vesperman family found something really special, something that seems to only exist in small towns: a unique event; a trust between buyer and seller; and a fun, special experience for many local (and sometimes not so local) families.
One thing that was pretty constant (besides all the pumpkins) was the presence of Kyle's grandparents, who thoroughly enjoyed pumpkin season. Donald especially found joy in porch sittin' - on crisp, sunny afternoons you could usually find him in his chair, chatting with the families that stopped by, thanking everyone for their business, and wishing them all a happy fall. And when it got to the final few days before Halloween, you could bet he'd throw in an extra pumpkin or two for ya, no charge.
When Bruce quit farming in 1995, Kyle, then in high school, still had an interest in raising crops, and he mainly focused on sweet corn and pumpkins. Even though back in those days he was busy with school and football practice, a lot of his fall weekends were spent picking pumpkins and taking them up to the house. "Sometimes I'd take up two or three wagonfuls, and in between loads I could tell people had been there. I'd be putting more pumpkins on bare spots that just an hour ago were full," he remembers.
After graduating and going to college, Kyle found a little more time in his schedule, and that's when his ideas for the pumpkins and for the fall season really began to take off. In 2002, he kept the pumpkins in the patch and invited families to come out to the farm to pick their own, marking the first official fall season and beginning a new chapter in the farm's history.
In many ways, though, Kyle's approach to his projects has remained the same. He still operates the fall season very similarly to the way he operated his small pumpkin market as a 14-year old: with some background and knowledge in the area, a lot of hard work and time, a (sort of) clear vision, and a lot of energy, he continues to create and share experiences that have the same magic of that little pumpkin operation. And even though it's on a much bigger scale now, 15 years later, the fall season at its heart is all about building relationships, spending time with family, and throwing in that extra pumpkin.
This story is part of 15 Year Features series to celebrate 15 years of Vesperman Farms' fall season. If you'd like to read more, click on the "15 Year Features" category!
With the weather warming up in the last few weeks (ha, just kidding), the last thing I want to do is reflect on winter - but I'll make an exception to gush about the beautiful winter ceremonies we celebrated on the farm this past January...and to show some love to our amazing preferred vendor, photographer Tanya Schwendinger of Precious Moments Photography, LLC.
Although some couples shy away from the cold and snow, these two and their families warmed up the barn with their fun, their love, and their excitement to begin their married lives together.
Tanya finds beauty and emotion in every shot. "I always like to capture the whole day as story-telling material...what I look for most is emotion between loved ones - the first look between the father and the bride, tears between the mother and her son or daughter, the first kiss, and the love between the bride and groom," she says.
Those cold Wisconsin winters don't faze us: in-floor heating keeps our guests warm and comfortable on even the chilliest of days. And even thought it might be stark outside, the barn provides a great backdrop for any vows.
"I am always amazed at how beautiful and unique the place can look for any style of the ceremony/reception," says Tanya. "There are nice places to step outside for beautiful sunset pictures and there are great textures in the old barns that give the photos a look that is both captivating and timeless!"
Congratulations to our lovely couples!
Fun on the farm...in blog form!