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Autumn 2003 | Volume 26, Number 4 | Features

Harvest Time at The Farm

The North Pole may be the capital of wintertime lore, but when it comes to harvest season, the Snohomish, Washington, farm of Ben and Carol Krause has autumn written all over it.

Having a barrel of a good time at The Farm, a young boy smiles next to his favorite pumpkin (which probably outweighs him). The Krause family’s farm in Snohomish, Washington, features a corn maze, flower garden, pumpkin patch and petting zoo.  
At the Krauses’ homestead — simply called The Farm — smoke billows from the chimney of a 1917 farmhouse. Fields of cornstalks teem with the season’s sweetest ears, and from every corner of the 125-acre property a bright orange pumpkin is visible.

“I guess I’ve always loved the fall,” says Ben, a Seattle Pacific University graduate of 1976. It makes sense, then, that his family’s livelihood revolves around the season. The Farm has become a harvest-time destination for Northwest schools and families since opening in 1997. Visitors come from all over the state to see a selection of pumpkins and gourds in colors ranging from orange sherbet to lime green, not to mention a petting farm and a corn maze in the shape of Washington state.

It’s hard to believe, but the Krause family farm didn’t always look like this. For many years, it ran as a dairy. When the business became less profitable, says Ben, “I would sit out on my tractor in the fields and think, ‘How can I get out of this mess?’”

In the end, it was a child who gave the Krauses, both former school teachers, the idea for their innovative farm. “A boy who was visiting our house showed us a picture of a corn maze in Pennsylvania,” says Ben. “We thought, ‘Hey, we might be able to make a living out of this. Maybe it would draw people in.’”

It certainly did. Today The Farm welcomes more than 20,000 school children annually and thousands more families during the harvest season.

With such an outpouring of public interest, it wasn’t long before their idea became a sense of mission. “Our whole philosophy is that we want to promote families in what we do,” says Carol. “People don’t have the opportunity to be out in open spaces together anymore, and few people have a connection with a farm.

“It amazes me how many kids don’t know that apples are harvested in the fall,” she continues. “Nowadays you can get any vegetable or fruit outside of its natural growing season, so children don’t understand the cycle of seasons: planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall.”

These are exactly the things schoolchildren, especially those from urban areas, learn when visiting The Farm. “A lot of kids who come from Seattle are amazed at how much space there is here,” says Carol. That’s especially true of the corn maze, which covers more than 11 acres. Ben creates the maze each year using a grid system shaped like Washington state.

One of the Krauses’ employees, Peter Bohlke — affectionately known as “Farmer Pete” — usually kicks off tours of the maze. This particular morning, few of the visiting sixth-graders seem to be interested in listening to directions.

“Farmer Pete,” says a girl waving her hands, “can we eat the corn?” “No, it’s a member of the plywood family,” he replies with a dry humor only their teacher can interpret. “How come the corn is so tall?” asks a boy in a baseball cap. Pete’s answer gets right to the point: “Everybody say, ‘manure,’” he instructs. “Manure,” the group chimes in, laughing.

The children travel by wagon to the maze’s entrance, where Ben hands out Washington state maps. The instructions sound simple enough: Find the destinations marked on your map, fill out the quiz and exit at Grays Harbor. “After you make it out, I’ll have ice cream and a pig show for you — but don’t lose your maps. I built this maze, and I still get lost in it,” cautions Ben as the children flood the maze’s entrance.

The Farm isn’t only for kids. Starbucks and Microsoft employees have both held team-building excursions here. “Youth groups love coming out to the maze at night with flashlights,” says Ben.

The Krauses have always relied on their family to get the farm work done. “It’s a great experience,” Ben says of having raised four children on the farm. “There are so few farm families anymore.” Among other things, the Krause children learned the importance of routine. “And if they didn’t do a good job,” Ben adds, laughing, “they’d have to clean the calf bins.”

He often thinks back to his time at SPU, where he arrived as a junior and immediately joined the Falcon basketball team. “Keith Swaggerty was our coach,” he says. “I’ll never forget what he told us: ‘You’re not just here to play basketball.’ He challenged us in our relationship with the Lord, and we learned that as Christians we can either be a stepping stone for other people or a stumbling block.” That’s a motto Ben’s family embraces every day at The Farm.

Since most of the Krauses’ work is with public schools, they have to use discretion in communicating their Christian faith, but the message isn’t lost. “We just try to be who we are, and show an example in how we treat people,” says Ben.

It’s getting late in the afternoon, and Ben has work waiting for him in the pumpkin patch, but before he can leave, a fourth-grader named Alex approaches with a question. Instead of dismissing the boy, Ben delegates his farm task to son Nate. “I need 20 big pumpkins,” Ben calls, holding out his hands to indicate extra large.

It’s obvious the child’s question is much more pressing for Ben. “This is the most fun,” he says, shaking the young man’s hand.

There is definitely a hustle and bustle to farm life, but the rhythm isn’t hectic or tense. “I was up delivering pumpkins in Edmonds at five this morning,” Ben says. He’s now ready to load pumpkins into a truck bound for grocery stores in Alaska.

“We pretty much work hard and then collapse at the end of the day,” says Carol, smiling. Before he disappears into the pumpkin patch, Ben gives his wife a knowing look. “’Tis the season,” he says.


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