Morton, the pumpkin capital of the world
For a fun fall outing about an hour’s drive from Springfield, take a trip to Morton – the Pumpkin Capital of the World. Ackerman Family Farms, LLC, located at the eastern edge of Morton, is the perfect place to purchase pumpkins, fall décor and local products in a family-friendly setting. Fourth generation farmer John Ackerman enjoys enlightening visitors about pumpkins, gourds, squash and farming. Here you can see firsthand how pumpkins for your jack-o’-lantern differ from the pumpkins used to make pumpkin pie filling. Ackerman Family Farms LLC is open Aug. 28 through Oct. 31.
Children delight in seeing many animals up close and personal, including turkeys, chickens, baby goats and a mini donkey. Walkways make it easy for visitors with strollers and visitors in wheelchairs to access the animal area. A former hog building has been charmingly retrofitted into a gift shop, featuring a diversity of Halloween and fall merchandise and locally made food products, such as honey, fruit butters, salsas and popcorn.
Another popular attraction is the corn maze. Each year there is a new design for this family-friendly attraction. This year’s maze ties into the Morton Chamber of Commerce’s Pumpkin Festival theme, “Das Pumpkin.” Hayrack rides are offered on weekends. A U-Pick Pumpkin Patch will open a little later in the season. Ackerman Family Farms also hosts field trips for local schools that want a unique educational experience.
Morton Pumpkin Festival – Sept. 13-16
The Morton Pumpkin Festival is a popular local event, organized by the Morton Chamber of Commerce, and now attracts an estimated 70,000 visitors. This year’s “Das Pumpkin” festival is Sept. 13-16. The festival began in 1967 as a celebration of the beginning of the pumpkin harvest and canning season at the local Libby’s pumpkin plant. In 1978, the governor of Illinois signed a proclamation declaring Morton the “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” since 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin is processed in Morton by Libby’s.
There is something for everyone at the festival, including pumpkin foods, live entertainment, parades, a 10K race and much more. The Saturday morning parade features floats, bands and entertainment. Visitors are encouraged to wear orange. The festival features over 30 special events and venues hosted and organized by over 2,000 volunteers. Examples include a a kids’ carnival and midway, pumpkin decorating contest, “Pumpkin Idol, Jr.” competition, pumpkin pie eating contest, pumpkin recipe challenge, pumpkin weigh-off, and a 10K and 2-mile run. You can also sample all kinds of food made with pumpkin, such as pumpkin chili, baked beans, pasta salad, ice cream, shakes, pancakes and other tasty treats. Event information can be found at www.mortonpumpkinfestival.org and the Morton Pumpkin Festival Facebook page.
Karen Ackerman Witter moved to Springfield from Morton when she was nine. She and John Ackerman of Ackerman Family Farms are first cousins. As a baby she lived on the family farm. As associate director of the Illinois State Museum she arranged for her father, Ray Ackerman, and John Ackerman to share their stories about farming for the museum’s oral history of Illinois agriculture project.