MANATEE COUNTY — Trish Hunsader smiles as the sound of car tires and footsteps on gravel filter through the barn’s open door.
It’s the afternoon before the Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival opens, and as vendors and performing acts ready for the tens of thousands who will flood the East County farm over three weekends, Hunsader is taking a few minutes to catch her breath.
Now in its 19th year, the festival is a local institution, a signal of fall’s arrival. And this year, with more attractions and entertainment, Hunsader said this one will be her family’s best.
“Last year, attendance was up 36%,” she said. “There were long lines for everything, so we figured the only way to accommodate (the crowd) is to expand to three weekends.”
With attendees traveling from as far away as Orlando and Fort Myers, the Hunsaders are making sure the trip is worth the drive. This year, the festival will feature a variety of entertainers, including daily performances by The World Famous Wallendas, mountainboard and BMX stunt riders, moto stunt trials, a firefighter training show for kids and more. Guests also have a chance to be contestants in the new Farm-ly Feud, a farm-themed game show.
As always, the festival also includes a variety of craft vendors, plenty of live music, food, a corn maze and, of course, the famous Hunsader pumpkin patch.
Covering most of the farm’s grounds, the modern version of the festival barely resembles the original, Hunsader said.
“The first one was one tent,” she said. “I think we had one band and 250 barbecue sandwiches. At one point, someone had to run out and buy two-liter bottles of soda because we ran out.”
However, although the festival has grown exponentially from its modest beginning, one aspect has remained the same, Hunsader said.
“It’s always been a family thing,” she said. “Jim and Connie (Hunsader), the grandparents, still work and work and work — six days a week. You can stand anywhere (on the festival grounds) and look out and see something they touched.
“And even after 19 years, we all get excited,” Hunsader said. “It’s truly a labor of love. And next year will be our 20th, and I know we have to top this one. I just don’t quite know how we’re going top it.”
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
IF YOU GO
Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Oct. 23-24 and Oct. 30-31
WHERE: Hunsader Farms, 5500 C.R. 675
ADMISSION: $7; children 12 and under free. Parking is $5.