Growing pumpkins, running an orchard and making apple cider at Stuckey Farm near Sheridan are now a way of life for Jeff Pierce, his wife Shannon, and their sons Jordan, 15, and James, 12.
A 1976 graduate of Greencastle High School, Jeff is entering his second busy fall season, and finds himself hosting parents and young children making the same sojourn into the country to pick pumpkins that he did with his children.
He feels he lucked into the orchard business by happenstance.
"I had been looking for a business, and never dreamed this is what I would find," he told the BannerGraphic recently. He had previously owned a business selling commercial items, but he was not familiar with agriculture.
It was the usual trip for kindergarteners and first-grade children that introduced his family to the orchard. It turned into a family tradition to get apples and pumpkins for Halloween at the farm, and it was three years ago during one of those trips that Jeff found out the owners were planning to sell the business.
"I was curious more than anything," Pierce said of that October 2004 trip, " and I asked for the owner to ask if it was for sale. They thought they had it sold, but he took my number."
That November, Jeff got a call to ask if he was still interested in the farm, and in May 2005 he signed the purchase agreement.
"I felt as a family, it was a golden opportunity for my sons to grow up and work in the family business and be able to help out," he said. "It was different than a dad going to an office and not being sure what he does."
Jordan and James now help with the business on weekends and the evenings. They learn how to deal with customers, even when the customer is not always right.
"It's been eye-opening for them, and good for them," he said of his sons.
The son of Dale and Dona Pierce, Jeff grew up "in the country" west of Greencastle on West Walnut Street Road, where his parents still live. The extent of his farming experience at that time, he said, was helping his grandparents put up hay in the fall.
Running the orchard comes with a steep learning curve.
"The orchard is still agriculture, but it's a little different than growing crops," he said.
The family from whom he purchased the business agreed to stay on to work and consult with him for the first two years, which gave a much-needed boost to Pierce.
This time of year is hectic, with 14-hour days being common.
"We have to start hanging on when it gets to this time of season, because we know there is an end to it," he said.
At this time of year, Pierce has 26 people working at the business, which includes the 14-acre pumpkin patch, country market, and a large corn maze. The 40-acre farm also grows green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn and cucumbers.
Bottling apple cider is another part of the business.
"We process and bottle everything on site," he said, "and we sell to other orchards that don't have their own facility."
The corn maze is a popular attraction that draws customers. This year it features a cowboy and an American flag.
Stuckey Farm is locates about minutes away from Zionsville. To get there from Putnam County, travel to Interstate 465 and go north to the Michigan Road exit at Ind. 421 on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Go north on Ind. 421 to Ind. 32, then take that east three miles until you see a Stuckey Farm market sign. Go north on the Hamilton-Boone county line road for about 2.5 miles.
Directions and an overview of Stuckey Farm are also available on the Internet at www.stuckey farm.com.