Not many couples gaze out at their front yards and envision rows of pumpkins or “see” little boys playing in a future hay maze, but that is what Audra and Ronnie Massie of Stephenson did.
Vine by vine, their big idea took root in the soil at their Barker’s Ridge acreage last June and grew.
By September, the Massies’ dream was an extraordinary reality — MJM Farms Pumpkin Patch, a pumpkin-filled wonderland that sprouted for the autumn to give kids of all ages a place to wander and laugh.
The name of the Wyoming County pumpkin patch is MJM Farms, in honor of the couple’s two sons, 10-year-old Mavrick Justin and McCrae Jude, who is 8. The patch has already thrilled hundreds of the Massies’ neighbors this fall, and it is a family venture that Audra and Ronnie expect to keep growing.
“My husband and I knew when we got married about 15 years ago we eventually wanted to have property,” said Audra. “We looked for years upon years upon years.
“Finally, about three years ago, this house we’re living in now came up for sale.”
When the couple saw the house, they noticed that only a couple of acres of land came with it. But right on the next lot, Audra said, was a promising 10-acre tract.
The Massies bought the house.
Later, they asked the owner of the adjoining acreage to sell. She did, and the Massies were owners of a big parcel of land in rural Wyoming County. They needed a big idea to fill it.
“We knew we wanted to do something for the community,” said Audra. “We have two young sons, and we have to drive — to go to the movies, go bowling, do anything.
“You’re looking at a 45-minute drive to Beckley, an hour to Princeton.”
Audra, who grew up in Wyoming County and teaches school there, said Wyoming County Schools had once bused students long distances each fall to visit a pumpkin patch. Kids had loved the visits, but, eventually, the pumpkin field days had stopped.
“It got to be an issue with time,” she explained. “We were spending so much time on the bus.”
As she and Ronnie, an underground coal mine electrician, tossed out ideas for the acreage, Audra suggested a pumpkin patch.
“Let’s go for it,” Ronnie told her.
In June, they planted a variety of pumpkins. The boys helped to plant 59 plants, which each grew several pumpkins. The vines took root and thrived, but when the drought started in July, Ronnie said, only about 100 of the pumpkins survived. Most stopped growing.
“The majority of them were about softball sized, and they just quit,” said Audra. “So we did have to haul pumpkins in, just for that fact.”
Between the hauled and the homegrown gourds, the patch offered plenty of pumpkins for visitors.
Ronnie said the patch has a field with giant Big Macs, ornamental, sugar and Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins, which are the typical carving pumpkins and weigh 30 to 40 pounds.
Sugar pumpkins are good for painting, and the tiny ones that fit in the hand are “ornamental” pumpkins.
“The sugar pumpkins are used for the pumpkin butter or pumpkin pie filling,” explained Ronnie.
The pumpkins weren’t the only attractions. The Massies wanted a fun venture that would offer Wyoming residents a place for parties, school trips and memories.
They added a hay maze, a Pumpkin Tic-Tac-Toe game, a gigantic slide, human-size “hamster wheels” for racing, an old-fashioned sack race, a corn box and hay rides out to the field for finding the perfect pumpkin.
A unique attraction is the “mock milking cow” — a contraption that is set up to show students how to milk a cow.
They set the grand opening for Sept. 28.
Audra marketed the new patch by passing out fliers to fellow teachers over the summer. She started a Facebook page, “MJM Farms,” and the Massies counted down until opening day.
Sept. 28 was blazing hot, but families poured onto MJM Farms’ pumpkin patch to enjoy the Massies’ vision for their land.
The hard work on the pumpkins, hay maze, races and other attractions had paid off in a big way for the family and their neighbors, and it continued to grow throughout the fall months as families and school kids visited the patch that had sprung up in their county.
“It will, literally, bring tears to your eyes,” said Audra. “It’s overwhelming, but not in a bad way, to see something that you’ve put so much time and effort into, coming to fruition.
“We spent months and months planning and working at this, and the three-second smile of a little boy or a little girl as they ride out and see the patch makes it totally worth it.”
Mavrick and McCrae quickly took ownership of MJM Farms. Every Saturday in October, they have put on MJM shirts, greeted visitors and hauled pumpkins.
“I wanted our boys to see what hard work can do,” said Ronnie.
“They love, love, love it,” added Audra. “It’s like having friends over every Saturday, on a humongous playground.
“They also pull their weight. They help us set up on Saturdays. They help us clean up on Saturday evenings.”
The patch has become popular with the public on Saturdays and for school field trips and birthday parties and church events, said Audra.
“There’s differences between the field trip days and public days,” she added. “There’s a different atmosphere.
“But just the community feeling! Everyone’s been so polite, and we’ve had such positive feedback that it just really, really inspires you to do more and more and more and give more and more.”
Birthday parties are special because MJM Farms is a unique venue in the Mullens area, said Audra. Hosts bring decorations and food to a picnic area at MJM Farms, and they buy pumpkins to paint.
Games are part of the package.
“It’s a different spin on what people around here are typically used to,” she explained.
Ronnie said MJM Farms pumpkin patch has been such a wonderful experience in 2019 that it is barely work.
“If it were feasible, I would most definitely do the whole thing free,” he reported. “But we’re just a blue-collar family, and we’re trying to raise two boys, so it’s not feasible.”
He added that family and friends have provided strong support for the effort, too.
“The overall support has been absolutely amazing.”
Next year, the Massies will have to plant more pumpkins due to the demand in 2019. Ronnie also has plans to add a corn maze in 2020.
Public hours are 11 a.m. on Saturdays until the crowds are gone, and field trips are available throughout the week.
Birthday parties are on Sundays and may be booked on Facebook at “MJM Farms.”
More information is available by calling Audra at 304-890-1686.