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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
The Citrus Heights Pumpkin Farm has re-opened for the month of October, bringing back an annual attraction that has drawn families and residents to the farm’s location on Old Auburn Road since the 1970s.
Leonne Shymoniak, wife of the late Leonard Roy Shymoniak, who passed away in November 2017 at age 76, now lives in Brisbane, Australia. She recently visited the Citrus Heights family farm, celebrating her 80th birthday with her three children who grew up on the local farm and taking time to sit down for an interview with The Sentinel.
“Seeing the Pumpkin Farm again brings back so many memories for me,” said Leonne, reaching down to pet her late husband’s dog, Kimba. “Citrus Heights in 1972, when we first moved, was so much more rural back then.”
“Our hobby farm kept horses in some of the paddocks. Cows, sheep, poultry, pigs, goats, rabbits, plus a dog and cat roamed the rest of the acreage,” she recalled.
Her son Thomas and his wife Stephanie, who live in Davis, along with twins Yvonne and Yvette now carry on the family Pumpkin Farm tradition, which began over 40 years ago when their family first opened the farm to the public to pick pumpkins.
Family photos with their three children on the farm are featured in a keepsake family book Leonne compiled.
Her late husband, known as “Farmer Leonard,” obtained a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Alberta, Canada and was accepted into UCLA for a PhD in educational administration. He worked for the State of California as a senior financial analyst in the chancellor’s office of the state community college system until his retirement in 1999.
Although very accomplished in his professional education career, Leonard was best known in Citrus Heights for his lifetime of farming activities and the imaginative place he created each Halloween.
“Generations have grown up visiting the Pumpkin Farm and I think it’s just as popular as it’s ever been,” said Leonne. “I think my husband Leonard would be proud to know that our family is carrying on the tradition he started.”
The Shymoniak family ran a small-scale poultry, egg and dairy ranch in the 1970s and the family started growing pumpkins on the farm and offering school children a tradition which continues today. Pumpkins are no longer grown on the farm, but are brought in from outside sources each year.
“Even the old Ford pickup truck I used to drive the children while they were growing up is still here,” said Leonne. “There’s a scary scarecrow trapped under its front hood with her feet sticking out.”
The Pumpkin Farm’s popular corn maze is just the right height for young children who enjoy exploring its many pathways. Another popular attraction is the haunted barn, known to be “full of hungry creatures, goblins and other terrifying critters,” according to the farm’s website.
“We all contributed in different ways to the building of the attractions. My wedding dress is in there,” Leonne said. “It’s going to good use, now worn by the bride of Frankenstein.”
Visitors can learn more about the Pumpkin Farm’s collection of extensive antique farm equipment which dates from the horse-drawn era, to the dawn of industrial farming in the 1950s. Additional points of interest include the farm’s 100-year old fruit and olive orchards, colorful, fun scarecrow displays, barn owl nests and old turkey barns.
“Leonard built many of the featured attractions by himself, including an excursion train which still takes children and guests around the property,” she said. “He loved entertaining the children who visited our farm each year.”
The Pumpkin Farm’s history began around the late 1850’s when the oak forested land in this area was sub-divided into 10-acre small-scale farms for new immigrants moving into the area after the Gold Rush.
Situated on Old Auburn Road, which ran from Auburn to Sacramento and on to San Francisco, the farm was first logged to produce lumber to supply the rapid expansion in Old Sacramento and the railroad industry, according to the farm’s website. Later, the farm was used as a mixed fruit and nut orchard, a dairy and cattle ranch, turkey ranch and for bee-keeping.
In 2009, a go-kart train ride made its debut, allowing children to take a fun ride around the farm through places the excursion train which Leonard built, or the hayride couldn’t go.
From goats to turkeys to pot-bellied pigs, visiting children can meet a wide range of farm animals.
Four different slides varying in height from 10 feet to 30 feet high offer a thrill for children of all ages. Hayrides and a jump house are also featured on the farm.
“The train is a moving work of art, and the kids love it year after year,” said Stephanie Szymoniak. The train was regularly featured in the City of Citrus Heights Red, White and Blue Parade down Sunrise Boulevard with Farmer Leonard at the wheel.
“Leonard truly loved this place as did all our family,” she said. “He enjoyed sharing it with the community, and in his memory, we’re hoping to keep the Pumpkin Farm going for many more years to come.”
The Pumpkin Farm is open Tuesdays through Sundays during the month of October and is located at 7736 Old Auburn Rd. in Citrus Heights. Call (916) 726-1137 for more information or to schedule a school field trip. Visit www.pumpkinfarm.net for more information.
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