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In Search Of The Great Pumpkin

MONMOUTH -- Decisions, decisions.Friday morning was full of them for a group of youngsters from Grace Christian School in Dallas while on a field trip to Airlie Hills Farm's annual Harvest Festival & Pumpkin Patch."Daddy, I found the perfect pumpkin!" declared 5-year-old Abigail Bell, bounding up to her father, Brandon.Then she found another perfect pumpkin. And another. And another.Abigail and her younger sister, Adalee, 2, had quite a collection placed in their plastic yellow bags by the time their parents discovered them.Alas, they could only pick one pumpkin and one gourd each from the farm's plentiful pumpkin patch.The Dallas family set about separating the two "most perfect" pumpkins from the assortment just before the hayride tractor came back to pick them up.Friday's critical decisions and happy chaos is typical of weekdays at the farm during pumpkin season."Mornings are always busy with field trips," said Airlie Hills Farm owner Aaron Kennel.On weekends, the farm's concession stand is open, serving kettle corn, hot dogs, grilled sausage, and hot chocolate and cider. Photo by Jolene Guzman Jackson Walker, 5, takes a ride down the hay pyramid slide Friday. The slide is a favorite during school field trips to Airlie Hills Farm. Kennel said thus far the season has been as hectic as usual -- with the exception of the weekend of the late September storm. The atypical early fall storm took a casualty: the farm's popular corn maze blew down in the wind and heavy rain.Kennel said that is the first time that has happened that he can remember."And hopefully the last time," he said, adding the maze takes months to plan, design and grow. "A lot of hard work went into that for sure."This year, the design had a bee theme, but only patches were left standing. But with a bevy of other activities -- including a hay pyramid slide, a hay maze, dark maze and the pumpkin patch -- it hasn't seemed to put much of a damper on the fall festivities.Only more rain could do that, and thankfully it looks like it could, for the most part, stay away for a while. Photo by Jolene Guzman Joe King, left, waits as his sons Wyatt, 2, and Connor, 3, take their time to select the perfect pumpkin on Friday morning. "It really all depends on the weather," Kennel said. "People always wait for that sunny day." Perfect Pumpkins What: Airlie Hills Farm Harvest Festival & Pumpkin Patch. When: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Halloween. Where: 10720 Airlie Road, Monmouth, west of Highway 99W. Admission: Monday-Friday, $5 unlimited activity wristband; Saturday-Sunday, $7 wristband. For more information: 503-851-6904.; www.airliehills.com.

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