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Finding great pumpkin just part of the fun

PHOENIX — A few miles outside of Medford on an old walnut farm, Ric Reno spends his October weekends playing conductor of a tractor-ride tour around his property, passing row after row of pumpkins.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Farmer Ric, and this is Farmer Jeri, my better half," Ric called out to a crowd riding in a wagon attached to the tractor Sunday afternoon.

The Renos are owners of the 17-acre Pheasant Fields Farm, which opens to the public for weekend harvest festivals each October.

In addition to tractor tours and five acres of pumpkin patches, the property has a corn maze, flower and herb gardens, and about a dozen other activities and play areas.

"We're just making use of the land," said Jeri Reno. "We try to do a little bit for all the different age groups."

She said the couple bought the land in the early '90s and have spent the past nine years developing the property and expanding the harvest festival.

A main pumpkin patch near the entrance of the farm allows visitors to browse through rows of pumpkins, with wheelbarrows scattered around to help guests haul their selections to their cars.

"I don't know anyone that does it this big," said Jeri Reno, who estimates more than 1,000 people came to the farm for its opening day, Saturday.

"It was very busy, but it's really so much fun," she said.

Jeri Reno thinks people enjoy the farm because they get to pick and choose activities, with none costing more than a few dollars.

"People can do what they want here, it's kind of a la carte," she said. "We've been able to create traditions for families."

Admission to the farm is free, with $1 tickets for the different activities, some costing two or three tickets.

Both Renos hold full-time jobs aside from their work on the farm, and they hire just a handful of full and part time employees to help during the busy fall season.

Reno said the pumpkin patches aren't all that different from many Christmas tree farms — the majority of business comes from public visits.

"It sort of is the same," said Jeri.

During the week, the Renos allow school groups to visit, offering fun and educational tours.

"It's about getting back to the farm and seeing where the food is from," Jeri Reno said.

The Reno's also enjoy incorporating history into their festival.

Located at 1895 Camp Baker Road, the area near the farm once was a Civil War military camp, and the Reno's plan to play into this history later in the month.

The Cascade Civil War Society will visit the farm Oct. 22 and 23 to talk about Camp Baker and share Civil War history with the public.

"They set up a camp and talk to folks about history," said Ric Reno. "This is a good venue for it."

Ric Reno, who has a degree in ornamental horticulture, estimates that the farm sells somewhere around 250,000 pounds of pumpkins each year.

"We really enjoy it, and people really enjoy it," he said. "Fall is my favorite time of the year."

For a complete list of October events in the Rogue Valley, visit www.mailtribune.com/octoberevents.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or by email at tristow@mailtribune.com.