Pumpkins, hayrides, and corn mazes are staples of the Halloween season. For the Albany area, Mark’s Melon Patch has been providing the classic autumn experience for years with their Fall Festival all throughout October.
Starting in 1981, Mark’s Melon Patch began as a five-acre watermelon farm under an old pecan tree. Since then, it has grown into a popular agritourist farm in the region, growing produce such as peanuts, cantaloupes, scuppernong grapes, pumpkins, and more on 90-acres.
Not just fresh produce, but jams, praline pecans, baked goods, ice cream, and more can also be bought at their roadside store.
Owner Mark Daniel grew up on his family’s farm and attended ABAC between 1982 and 1984; he transferred to and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1986. During this time, he worked scouting peanuts for UGA while growing watermelons as a side job. Eventually, between 1986 and 1987, the first building was built on the watermelon farm and, in Daniel’s words, “the rest was history.”
Daniel emphasizes how he could not have done any of this without the support and advice from numerous family members and friends.
He cites his father and uncle, Tom and John, who ran the Daniel Brothers Farm, as his most major source of support.
“Without them I just wouldn’t be here. They just provided countless years of advice and help that was invaluable… I’ve gotten so close with many older men who have really helped me along the way and made this all possible.”
He also reflected on his late friend Jim Carroll who would help with odds and ends around the farm throughout the years, as well as J.R. Grubbs and his son, who helped and taught him many things, such as the retail aspect of running a business and helping build the buildings on the farm.
The Daniel family and staff have faced many challenges in recent years to keep the farm in business, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
“Hurricane Michael hit right during the October Halloween season which is often our busiest and most looked forward to time of year. The power went out, trees had gone down. The pumpkin crop was flattened, and a lot of the leaves were wiped away, exposing the pumpkins to sunburn risk.”
“There were also a lot of fears and unknowns with COVID,” Daniel continued. “We were afraid the staff would catch it and we wouldn’t be able to run the business. We were unsure if we’d be shut down, if the government would shut us down.” Despite the challenges, Mark’s Melon Patch has remained resilient and thriving.
On the struggles, Daniel commented, “This place has a way of keeping you humble and trusting in God. It teaches you a resiliency you don’t really know when you’re young.”
The biggest hallmark of the season at Mark’s Melon Patch is, of course, pumpkins. According to Daniel, they grow over 50 varieties of pumpkins.
“They come in various shapes and sizes and colors. The most popular ones are stacking pumpkins, so we grow a wide variety of those. We got pumpkin varieties that can range from 200 pounds to half a pound.”
Pumpkins are not very suited to Georgia growing conditions since they are a northern fruit. Daniel noted that pumpkins take quite a bit of work to get right in South Georgia. They battle with heat, aphids, and whiteflies every year in order to provide them for the season. It is well worth it, as pumpkins are a central part of the Fall Festival experience.
In addition to October festivities, Mark’s Melon Patch is a popular location for tours in the area. He described how his farm is a popular tour location for mentally and physically disabled people, as well as children on school trips.
“Kids and families will come here for field trips, and I never get tired of the surprise and wonder on little kids’ faces when they get off the bus… I love the community outreach aspect of it. I know that I have a business that does good in peoples’ lives,” Daniel added.
When asked to share any philosophies or beliefs he had about farming, Daniel had a lot to reflect on: “It’s an awesome way to raise a family. I have granddaughters that visit, and it’s just amazing to see them here. I have three daughters that grew up here. They may not have known it at the time, but it’s a really awesome way to grow up. It’s simplistic, but it’s not. A simplistic way of looking at and living life, and it breeds contentment unlike many other jobs that are out there. It keeps you grounded.”
He also highlighted a quote by Thomas Jefferson that hangs on his office wall that has provided him a lot of inspiration and strength over the years: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.”
The Fall Festival will be held every weekend in October and will include activities such as hayrides, a corn maze, farm animal exhibits, a spooky barn maze, a gigantic jump pad, and more. They are also open to hiring throughout the year.
More information about Mark’s Melon Patch such as hours, location, and contact information can be found on their website at http://www.marksmelonpatch.com or on their Facebook page.