The Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival might be canceled this year, but local farmers aren’t giving up quite yet on the fall season or on the orange orb that fuels much of the local economy.
According to Tiare Peña, project planner for San Mateo County, the many farms along highways 1 and 92 near Half Moon Bay that cater to pumpkin season tourists are gearing up for a fall opening. Some are in the process of obtaining a seasonal permit, which allows farms to open for “agritourism” for no more than two 45-day events per year. Among the farms with year-round or seasonal permits or in the process for approval are Cozzolino, Lemos, Pastorino, Repetto, Arata and Santa’s Tree Farm for the winter season.
Peña said she doesn’t expect any hurdles with permit approvals, but said county and state health orders will ultimately dictate what can and cannot open.
Jennifer Cozzolino, whose family runs Cozzolino Farm’s pumpkin patch, said the family is still in the planning phases for the fall, but is continuing through the permit process in the hopes the farm can reopen. Its permit to operate a pumpkin patch and other tourist attractions was approved by the San Mateo County Agricultural Advisory Committee on Monday night.
“... we are going through all the usual steps, such as the permit process, in the hopes that October will bring about more normalcy,” Cozzolino wrote in an email to the Review. “Our pumpkin patch is located in one of the large fields along Highway 92 so all of our activities are outside, which is a plus for us.”
In a typical fall season, the Coastside sees tourism and traffic that rivals the busiest blue-sky summer weekends. So far during the COVID-19 pandemic, managing crowds has proven a tough task. City of Half Moon Bay Communications Director Jessica Blair said the city’s plan for managing an influx of visitors would remain the same during the fall season.
“We will utilize our resources to manage as best we can,” Blair wrote in an email to the Review. “Most of the impacts occur on 92 in the unincorporated area, so we don’t expect large impacts within city limits. Many of the pumpkin farms are outdoor retail which is currently allowed, so as we get closer, they will need to look into whatever health orders are in effect at the time to determine how they operate.”
Chris Gounalakis, who owns and operates Arata Pumpkin Farm, one of the oldest pumpkin farms in the country and a popular tourist destination on Verde Road off Highway 1, said he’s gearing up for a full reopening, but with new protocols in place.
Visitors will be required to wear masks, stay socially distanced and complete temperature checks upon arrival. Gounalakis said extra hand sanitizer, hand washing and bathroom facilities will be available. And this year, the alleys of his famous hay maze are much wider to accommodate social distancing.
“We want people to come prepared and respect each other’s comfort,” Gounalakis said.
In a fall season, Gounalakis said, a few hundred visitors come every day to explore the pumpkin patch, maze, petting zoo and other attractions. Gounalakis said he is paying close attention to health orders and will make adjustments to activities as needed, but is preparing for a full reopening.
He said the consistent breeze and open plan of the farm works in its favor, and he’s hopeful, even with Pumpkin Festival canceled, the season will go on.
“My gut feeling is that people will be so sick of staying home,” Gounalakis said. “I think we’re going to have a good season.”