Autumn is here, and that means it's time for Cox Farms' 31st annual fall festival. Fifty acres of fun, Cox' pumpkin patch is at 15621 Braddock Road in Centreville and is a veritable fantasy land for children.
Besides the pumpkins, of course, kids will find hayrides, rope swings, mountain slides, baby animals and lots more. They'll be able to crawl on bales of hay, explore tunnels and castles, whizzing down slides and swing on a rope before flinging themselves into a mound of soft sponges.
"We're ready for a great season," said owner Eric Cox. "Fall can be the most beautiful season of the year, and it's the perfect time to run around and play outside."
"That's what fall is all about," added his wife, Gina Richard. "And after the last two years, our kids deserve it more than ever." Their own children, Lily, Aaron and Luke, are grown, but all three will be helping their parents run the pumpkin patch.
Cox Farms will be open daily, from Sept. 27-Nov. 2, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., with the last entry at 5 p.m. Phone: 703-830-4121; Web site: www.coxfarms.com. Weekdays except Columbus Day, admission is $7; those 2 and under are free; Saturday, Sunday and Columbus Day, it's $9.
This weekend, Sept. 27-28, $1 of each admission will be donated to Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM), and Cox is encouraging all visitors, those days, to bring canned goods for the WFCM's food pantry. "Cox Farms has consistently supported WFCM and its work in the community," said WFCM executive director Dorothy Fonow. "The money enables us to help western Fairfax residents having financial difficulties. And we always need food — we're giving away over 1,000 bags a month to needy families."
This weekend is also Cox' "Taste of Harvest," offering free samples of nearly everything sold in the farm market, including brownies, cookies, apples, peanuts, jams and jellies.
Cox goes all out, every year, to offer fun activities for children. There are three rope swings and 10 mountain slides, including Panda Pagoda, Miners' Motel, Cox's Mountain, Volcano Mountain, Fairyland and Winnie the Pooh's house. The Volcano Mountain slide, said spokeswoman Lynn Hertz, even has special sound effects "to make you feel like you're sitting on top of a volcano — and there'll be dragons on top."
The hayride is always a highlight, and travelers will enjoy new artwork along the way and go through a huge, party barn filled with surprises. It won't be scary, but there'll be flashing lights, happy music and unusual sounds.
In the kiddie area, children can play a life-size game of Candyland and visit a spruced-up Winnie the Pooh's house. There's also free entertainment. Farmer Jack performs a musical, cow-milking show with Bingo the Cow, who'll be joined this year by her new calf, born Sept. 18, the day of the hurricane. Her name? Isabel, of course.
Weekends at the pumpkin patch also feature face painting, pony rides and a sing-along stage where kids can come up and sing into a mike, dance and feel like a "star." And every day, they can feed baby goats at Billy Goat Village and see cows, baby pigs, donkeys and a horse in the barn. "We have some precious, baby rabbits who are very friendly," said Hertz. "And we're hoping our baby ducks and chicks will hatch throughout October."
Apples and fresh cider, plus hot applesauce on the weekends, are available free. Weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., hot dogs, pizza and snacks will be for sale; a larger menu — including doughnuts — is offered on the weekends. Visitors may also bring their own food (no alcohol) for picnics on the grounds.
Everyone gets a free patch pumpkin to take home, and local apples, kettle corn, fresh cider, crumb cakes, brownies, fruit jams, honey, Indian corn, gourds and fall decorations may be purchased at the farm market.
The last weekend, Nov. 1-2, will be "Pumpkin Madness." Kids may bring in their old Halloween pumpkins and have fun playing games with them and also smashing them to bits. "We did it last year, for the first time, and it was the most fun weekend we ever had," said Hertz. "We rented a cherry picker and dropped the pumpkins 50 feet onto a cement slab." This year, the pumpkins will also be flung via a giant slingshot into the lake. Why? Just to see how far they'll go.
Birthday parties and groups are welcome and may call for reservations. Usually 100,000 people visit Cox' pumpkin patch, but there's so much room that no one feels crowded. And after last year's scary fall, Cox Farms is especially looking forward to seeing everybody return.
"We want to give fall back to the kids," said Hertz. "We're ready for a good time, and we want everyone to come back to the pumpkin patch. We're having fun out here, and we want to share it with everyone."
Besides families, the pumpkin patch is popular with Scouts and with school, church and play groups. "It's a pretty cool place," said Hertz. "We have kids from every facet of society from throughout the Washington Metropolitan area." Added Eric Cox: "And it's fun for people of all ages."