Hunsaders mix old and new at pumpkin fest

Scarecrows and pumpkins are a sure sign of autumn.

But autumn doesn't feel quite right in Manatee County until the annual Hunsader Pumpkin Festival comes around.

This weekend is the festival's 16th annual event, and as always, plenty of fun is planned for the next two weekends with a few new activities in store.

It's the kind of fall festival those with northern roots remember having in their hometowns when they were younger, organizers said. Such an unique fall event, filled with hay rides, a corn maze, games and live music is rare along the suncoast of Florida.

Having it at Hunsader Farms makes it extra special.

"It's very country," said Kim Hunsader, one of the organizers. "We try not to make it look like a carnival, but a country festival. It's probably hard to believe but we enjoy planning it. Our kids, it's like Christmas for them."

About 60,000 people attended last year's festival, which has something for everyone.

One of the biggest attractions is taking a stroll through the craft and food vendors. This year more than 150 vendors will be at the festival selling their wares. Food vendors will offer everything from barbecue and Mexican to funnel cakes and pumpkin pies.

The festival will also be trick-or-treat friendly towards children 10 years old or younger who appear in costume on Sunday.

Teenagers can expect a few new events aimed to their liking this year, featuring the BMX Stunt show on Oct. 20-21, said Trish Hunsader, another organizer. The bike show will perform three shows each day. Also new is the Free Style Motor-X Show with bikers leaping 100 feet into the air while performing various stunts during three daily shows on Oct. 27-28.

"We're always trying new ways to make it better, to appeal to more age groups," said Trish Hunsader.

Other new elements of the Pumpkin Festival include the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show where lumberjacks roll logs, throw axes and climb trees. Then there's the swamp show antics of the Sweeney Family Band. Both groups will perform for both weekends.

The entertainment includes country band Night Train, who has performed at every Hunsader Pumpkin Festival. This year, the farm will sell a special limited edition print featuring one of its old farm trucks to raise money for the band's leader, who has been diagnosed with cancer, Trish Hunsader said.

The farm also raises money for local children's charities through its "folksy" children's play area, she said. Many of the games stations were hand built by Jim Baar, and include the "scarecrow knock down," "toilet seat throw" and the pumpkin toss.

But one of the best adventures to be had at the festival may be the corn mazes. There's a small mini-maze for toddlers and a huge 7-acre maze for adults that takes about 30 minutes to walk through if done successfully, said Trish Hunsader.

With all the exciting activities planned, Trish Hunsader knows many families will gather at the farm again this year to partake in all the fun.

"For a lot of people, it's become a family tradition," she said.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

If you go

What: Hunsader Farms' 16th annual Pumpkin Festival

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday and Oct. 27-28. Treat-or-treat event for children 10 and under 3-5 p.m. Oct. 28.

Where: 5500 C.R. 675, East Manatee, halfway between State Road 64 and State Road 70, 10 miles east of Interstate 75

Tickets: $7 adults, free for children 12 and under; parking is $4

Information: www.hunsaderfarms.com