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Thousands Journey to Farm in Search of the Great Pumpkin

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To the untrained eye, they all could have looked the same: orange, plump, bumpy.

But 7-year-old Brandi Beck could tell almost instantly a good pumpkin from a bad one as she searched row after row at the Tierra Rejada Family Farm’s Fall Harvest Festival on Saturday.

The Simi Valley resident, along with her aunt Mary Diegel, came across dozens of potential candidates. Some were too small, others too oblong. Some lacked the necessary stem, and still others were scarred with dirt marks or gouges.

And then she found it--the most perfect pumpkin in the patch.

“We looked for a long time,” she said, feeling relieved and already imagining the triangular eyes and goofy smile she will carve into the big round gourd on the eve of Halloween.

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Such was the ritual for thousands of families at Tierra Rejada on Saturday afternoon for the farm’s third annual fall festival, which included hay rides on a Clydesdale-pulled wagon, a hay stack for climbing, and a variety of pumpkin-themed games. The Iron Mountain Boys played bluegrass music to a crowd of toe-tapping fans, who broke out in impromptu square-dance sessions.

“We want to get people back to the farm instead of bringing the farm to them at the grocery store,” said farm employee June Verloop, who was managing the sales area. The fall festival continues through Oct. 31, and the farm offers a year-round pick-your-own vegetable garden.

Tierra Rejada owner Craig Underwood said this year’s turnout has so far been the best. He expected more than 4,000 people to wander through the farm by the end of Saturday.

“The weather is cooler, so people are coming in happy moods,” he said. “Last year, it was over 100 degrees with no breeze.”

The farm plants more than 2 tons of pumpkins in mid-June to prepare for the festival, Underwood said, and they range from tiny, fist-sized pumpkins to gigantic ones that dwarfed many of the toddlers waddling through the farm.

This year, there was a contest to guess the weight of the farm’s largest pumpkin, which Underwood concedes won’t beat the world record of 1,100 pounds. Whoever’s guess comes closest to the pumpkin’s correct weight will win a wheelbarrow full of the vegetables of their choice, he said.

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The Duran family of Thousand Oaks had no trouble filling up their green wheelbarrow--one of 120 provided by the farm for the day’s vegetable shopping.

Kyler, 6, said he “looked far” for his pumpkin, which was big and round, though a little lopsided. He liked his pumpkin “because it’s big,” and his 4-year-old brother, Devin, chose his “because it’s little.”

The family also chose a zucchini that resembled a snake, on which they planned to paint a ghoulish face.

“We come every year,” said Heidi Duran, holding 16-month-old Tristan.

Her husband, Keith, said it’s nice every once in a while to get out into the country.

“It’s all open space, and there’s no concrete or sidewalks--just dirt and hay,” he said.

The same motivated Bill and Donna DeLuca of Granada Hills to bring their two children, Katelyn, 4, and Eddy, 3.

“This one is very country-like, not crowded and in the middle of the city,” like the pumpkin patch they visited last Halloween season, Bill DeLuca said.

The family hopes the farm does not succumb to the pressures of urban sprawl.

“The way development is going,” Bill DeLuca said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in five years those rolling green hills were neighborhoods.”

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