Instagrammers have overrun Bay Area pumpkin patches. Some are changing how they operate.
At Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch just outside of San Jose, selfie tripods are lined up strategically in an idyllic zinnia garden. Hayrides through the corn fields pause at the 12 varieties of sunflower to allow more picture-taking. Photo-ready sets can be found all over the patch, with hay sofas, umbrellas, pillows, and other props. It's an Instagrammer's paradise.
"We saw people were coming in and doing their own makeshift thing, so we thought we might as well give them something to work with," said pumpkin patch manager Desiree Mirassou.
Spina Farms has figured out something crucial: in the age of Instagram, paying a visit to the pumpkin patch means something more than the hunt for the hunkiest, healthiest gourd to carve a spooky face into. The pumpkin has become an afterthought. Now, it's all about you: the autumnal glow on your smiling, seasonally appropriate face, and the decorative gourd placed just-so in your lap for your Instagram followers to admire.
But Spina Farms wasn't always so perfectly tailored to the social media experience. In fact, casual pumpkin pickers and dedicated photographers once found themselves at odds. Teenage girls posing in heels would back up the pumpkin patch, their 30-minute photo sessions blocking the path of those trying to shop.
"But they're just darling — we can't get mad at them," said Mirassou. "Now the stuff is set in places where it won't stop traffic."
There's a general feeling of animosity in our culture towards younger people a little too attached to their cell phone cameras. But farmers aren't that mad. They just ask that in between pumpkin patch selfies, you buy their pumpkins.
"It's a courtesy to [buy a pumpkin]. But everybody's different — that's just the way I was raised," said Jim Groverman, who owns the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch. "If I have to use the bathroom and I go into a Chevron station, I'll at least buy a drink."
While some said that Instagrammers usually still ended up buying pumpkins, others, like Groverman, expressed dismay that this wasn't always the case. He has considered charging a general admission — which many other pumpkin patches already do — to resolve the issue, but has yet to do so.
Heidi Falkenberg, who manages the Nicasio Valley Pumpkin Patch in Marin County, recognizes that not everyone who visits will make a purchase. But overall enthusiastic support from the community makes up for it.
"We're just happy to provide a community service," said Falkenberg. "There's enough of our loyal customers ... that are willing to buy a few more pumpkins from us and spend a little more money because they know we do offer that."
All in all, pumpkin patch managers are happy to have people come out to their farms, camera or no camera — as long as picture-takers are mindful of their surroundings.
"One time when it rained, we closed," recalled Mirassou. "People got upset and wanted to come in their super fancy shoes that would get ruined in the mud. It's a farm. We grow things here."
So, if you're trying to achieve the perfect autumnal Instagram, that's fine, but remember to dress appropriately for a hay-covered, muddy, family-friendly farm. And, be sure to stay present. Mirassou noted a lot of parents stop paying attention to their kids when they get carried away taking selfies.
Also, don't be messy, and don't trash the carefully decorated sets some of these pumpkin patches have curated for you.
"Probably the biggest thing is to be respectful of my property, pick up after yourself, and respect what my wife and I have built and enjoy it," said Groverman.
After all, all they want is for people to develop an appreciation for the natural beauty their farms provide.
"People are just so happy to be in the country — a lot of them live in the city," said Mirassou. "That's why we want to give them more opportunities to get outside and in the middle of the plants... and enjoy it."
Madeline Wells is an SFGate editorial assistant. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @madwells22