Does the USDA Know You Have an Octopus in Your Corn?

September 29, 2011 — I’ve almost completely convinced myself that all the food I buy at the grocery store is created in a lab and manufactured in a factory. I’m not squeamish about the previous existences of my comestibles. It’s just that the idea that there exists living, growing things that are edible clashes so completely with my everyday experience of synthetic fibers, vinyl siding, and Slurpee machines that it’s hard to think in any other terms but petri dishes and conveyer belts. Basically, the whole thing is an attempt to dispel cognitive dissonance on my part.

Believe it or not, this is an introduction to an article about a Fall festival.

You see, during this time of celebrating harvest, death, and harvest as a metaphor for death, I, like most people, end up at a farm at some point for a Fall festival, further fueling that cognitive dissonance as I see firsthand crops being grown and animals with bleak destinies moping around. That is, it would if I weren’t so busy running through cornstalks, gingerly petting animals that look bored enough to make use of those horns on their heads, and being pulled in circles by tractors with giant tires.

Last weekend found me and mine doing just that at Clark Farms in Wakefield, Rhode Island. It was the first time we visited this vegetable farm, and visiting an unfamiliar farm during its seasonal celebration always invokes a bit of uncertainty and trepidation. At their worst, some are just glorified produce stands with a few half-hearted children’s activities scattered around, usually in the form of plywood character cut-outs.

Without kids to validate your presence at those types of Fall farm events, you can end up having a “should we really be here” experience, as you stand awkwardly beside a table piled with pumpkins and mums, wondering how to cut your losses (buy a pumpkin is always that answer). Fortunately, we have a two-year-old these days, so “should we really be here” applies to totally different parts of our life now.

The central attraction at this particular festival is its four-acre corn maze. I wrote last year about corn mazes, so I’ll just give the relevant highlights specific to Clark’s: It’s nautically themed, shaped like an octopus, features a pirate boat platform that allows you to survey the maze from above, and—in the squishy head of the octopus—has a clearing for a bonfire, a tree with tire swings, and a hay bale shaped and painted like Spongebob Squarepants.

The maze was small, but adequate, although they outlined the various paths with blue tape to help you avoid mistaking some of the natural spacing between stalks as a path, which was a little annoying. Extreme wrong turns are something I look forward to in the middle of a corn field, and it hurt the illusion of wandering lost through one.

In the petting zoo were bunnies and chickens, goats and donkeys. The goats were apparently a climbing species, as they had a ramp that took them about 20 or so feet into the air, where they could hang out in little treehouses or cross a bridge above human passersby into a different pen. It’s a strange experience having a live goat above your head. Not entirely unpleasant, though.

Elsewhere, set into a manufactured hill, was a large tube slide, complete with potato sack magic carpets to ride on, and a water sluice, where you could purchase small bags of dirt advertising guaranteed finds like arrowheads and seashells.

Nearby, small, pre-cut pumpkins were carefully arranged in a faux-patch for the picking beside a dirt track for some kind of strange pedal bikes and a small concession stand stocked with cider. There was also a shallow kernel pit, something I had never seen before and, which, now that I know they exist, just want one hour alone and naked with. To top off the experience, we jumped onto a hay ride, which took us into the surrounding forest where various spooky pirate dioramas had been set up.

Overall, Clark’s Fall festival is primarily a place for kids (or adults with kids), but a place with a lot of stuff to keep those kids occupied. We actually ended up staying much longer than we intended. When we finally did leave, we had corn kernels in our shoes, corn silk in our hair, and goat droppings on our shoulders.

Farming is dirty work. Good thing it doesn’t exist.


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