Nov 22, 2010
Farm replaces strawberries with pumpkins

When William Penn settled in Pennsylvania, he founded three counties in 1682, one of which was Chester County.

Sugartown Strawberries is the vegetable branch of Willisbrook Farm, a 230-acre farm in Chester County.
Willisbrook Farm has been run by the same family since 1896. Robert “Farmer Bob” Lange has worked the farm full-time since 1987. He grows asparagus, strawberries, sweet corn, various vegetables, sunflowers and pumpkins. His sister raises horses on the farm.

“Strawberries used to be the biggest part of our business,” Lange said. “That market really has slowed down now. Pumpkins are a better seller for us.”

Pumpkins are Lange’s biggest draw now. He runs 7 acres of land, with 2 acres of pumpkins growing on elevated black plastic. Those pumpkins are growing exceptionally well, Lange said. The pumpkins also draw in school tours. Lange sees 5,000-6,000 kids every season, and each one comes for a hayride and a pumpkin.

The farm market is small, and that’s the way Lange wants to keep it. He sells various produce, with sweet corn and sunflower bouquets being the biggest draw in the summer months. He also sells jams, jellies and a few snacks, but keeps it very low key.

“I never really wanted to get huge, so I keep the farm market small,” Lange said. “Still, we see around 25,000 people come through each year. It’s very non-commercialized.”

Lange and his family have protected a good portion of the farm in perpetuity. There are rare Serpentine Barrens, and many beautiful acres of forests and easements. In fact, 112 acres of the original farm have been deeded with the goal of preserving open space in Willistown Township. Bob has been a lifetime member of the Audubon Society since 1971. The farm property includes habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

“With property values as they are and with us being only 25 miles from Philadelphia, there isn’t much farmland left,” Lange said. “We wanted to provide an avenue for people to come out and see natural settings and practices, to see how pumpkins and such are grown. We want people to be able to experience the beauty of the farm.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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