Jesse & Erica Rowe: POWER of Pumpkins
Mountain mist surrounds a charming red barn stacked full of pumpkins on Rowe Crop Farm, operated by first-generation farmers Jesse and Erika Rowe, near Caledonia in Agri-Ready Designated Washington County. The couple had limited farm exposure and no experience in agriculture, but after Jesse planted some small food plots for deer they were hooked on farming. He planted cash crops in 2011 and was ready to invest in 2014 when he and Erika purchased their 600 acre farm near Caledonia. Today this young farming family relies on hundreds of acres of row crops, a corn maze, and a pumpkin patch for their living. Even in a dry year like 2023, the Rowe family is betting on the POWER of pumpkins for their farm’s success.
The Rowes are unique farmers in Washington County. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, less than twenty percent of Washington County’s market value of agriculture products comes from plant and grain crops. Jesse relies on no-till planting with a drill to get his seeds into the rocky, high clay soils. Soybean, corn, pumpkin, sunflower, colored Indian corn, and ornamental gourd seeds are all drilled at specific times to ensure the crops are ready at the right time for the corn maze and pumpkin patch.
“Things look troublesome this summer, but it isn’t over yet,” Erica said. “The lack of rain is a real struggle for us. Since everything is drying up, wildlife, especially deer, are coming to eat the vegetation of our crops. With no irrigation on the farms, we are at the mercy of nature.” The current drought is growing the Rowes out of their comfort zone. They have installed a new well, two new ponds, and have plans to irrigate to help their farm succeed. These investments will allow the Rowes to access the water their crops desperately need so that their fall corn maze and pumpkin patch are as bountiful as ever despite the drought.
Many people recognize the workload of the pumpkin patch during fall when it is open to the public. They may not see the immense amount of work that the Rowe’s pour into their farm during the other ten months of the year so the agritourism venue can serve visiting families with a beautiful, memorable experience. They spend winter months mending and building. The timing of spring planting is critical. Weed control and crop rotation make an invaluable difference to the condition of the corn and pumpkins. Attractions must be assembled, and the farm animals need daily care. Erika goes into over-drive as opening day approaches as she schedules farm employees and school group visits and puts out signs everywhere. The whole Rowe family spends an entire week before opening day hauling pumpkins into the pumpkin barn so that when visitors arrive, they are inspired.
“Our goal was not to have a corn maze. The thought came to us as we stood in a bare spot in one of Jesse’s fields. We knew if it didn’t work out, we could just harvest the crop. But now the Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch are our primary source of income each year,” Erika said. Jesse and Erika started the corn maze in the same year that they bought their first farm and moved to a new community.
The Rowe Crop Farm Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch is the only venue of its kind in the local area. Visitors will discover more than fifty varieties of pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, sunflower bouquets, and more. Pumpkins can be chosen in the barn, or visitors can ride the hayride to the 8-acre pumpkin patch to pick their own. Jesse personally designs the corn maze each year. The Rowe’s have developed a fantastic partnership with the community of Caledonia which hosts a pumpkin festival each second Saturday of October. The scenic mountains of the area beckon locals and many tourists. “I find joy and reward in putting something in the ground and watching it grow. I love that we can provide an experience for families that they can’t have every day. I like being able to see families having fun and kids not ready to leave,” Erika said.
Jesse and Erika involve their three children ages 8, 5, and 4 in their everyday activities on the farm. Jesse serves on the Washington County Extension Council, and the family are members of the Missouri Grown program and Missouri Farm Bureau. Missouri Farm Bureau is a partner of Missouri Farmers Care.
Want to go? Find Rowe Crop Farm on Facebook!