For 30 years, Walter Manis provided pumpkins, gourds, fall décor and tons of fall fun for children of all ages from his Nickelsville, Virginia farm. This year, the Punkin Man decided to hang up his jack-o-lantern. But never fear, Walter made sure he was handing over his business to a new generation of pumpkin farmers—the Johnson family, P.J. and Amanda, and daughters, Abany, 17; Elly Anna, 13; Natalee, 12; and Kayla, 9. And the best part, the new pumpkin farm is also located in Nickelsville, just a few miles from the Punkin’ Patch on Pungo Road.
The Johnsons aptly named their new pumpkin venture, Pungo Farms, and it is located a few miles down McConnell Hollow Road, just outside of Nickelsville.
The Johnsons started growing pumpkins in 2018 for their children. “We wanted the girls to have the opportunity to work hard for something and see the rewards of their hard work,” P.J. said. Initially, Amanda said, the girls started out small with a few pumpkins that they sold in parking lots and through Facebook yard sales.
The venture proved successful for the Johnson girls, and each year, they started adding more and more pumpkins. Then when COVID hit last year, the Johnsons sold their 2 ½ acres of inventory to Walter. At the same time, Walter was thinking of retiring from the pumpkin business and he offered to help the Johnsons expand their operation. This year, the Johnsons doubled their acreage.
Walter has been invaluable to us,” Amanda said. “He has done so much that we could never repay him. He is genuinely concerned for us, as well as his former customers, and he wants to ensure that we can adequately provide for them.”
Raising pumpkins is not an easy task. The Johnsons planted 18 different varieties, but only eight germinated. “Because you see volunteer pumpkins growing along fence rows, a lot of people think it is easy to grow pumpkins,” Amanda explained. In fact, pumpkins require a lot of attention.
“There is a lot of work involved in planting pumpkins,” P.J. added. The field prep. The actual planting, which the Johnson daughters performed in about a week. The plants are also prone to squash bugs and fungus so growers need to maintain a constant vigil to ensure plants are not consumed by the bugs. Mold is also prevalent because the pumpkin leaves are so large that when it rains, moisture becomes trapped under the leaves and causes mold to spread; therefore, the plants need to be sprayed to prevent mold build up and maintain a healthy plant.
Prior to even planting their first crops, the Johnsons did a lot of work to get the farm ready. P.J.’s dad, Pat, built the barn 40 years ago to cure tobacco. In the last few years, the barn had mainly been used for storage so the Johnson family spent a lot of time cleaning it out and getting it ready to display merchandise. While that was a time-consuming task, the hardest part was cosmetic, such as building storage bins for merchandise and the sales counter.
Beside the barn was a large pond that had to filled in and graveled to accommodate customer parking.
P.J.’s extended family also pitched in on the Pungo Farm project. “When they were not out helping us in the field or on the farm, one would call and say, ‘I have supper ready for you,’” Amanda said.
When Pungo Farms officially opens on Sat., Sept. 4, it will continue to be a family affair. The Johnson children are homeschooled so they will work in the merchandise area and help with other activities on the farm.
The Johnsons will hold an “Invite Only” special VIP event prior to opening to show appreciation for all the people who helped make Pungo Farms a reality. “We have several school field trips already booked so we need a practice run to make sure our timing is perfect,” said Amanda. Currently, the Johnsons have 12 field trips scheduled for each Wednesday through the end of the season on October 31.
Daughter, Abany, has an alter-ego, a scarecrow called Patty Patches, who will be available to teach children how to build their personal scarecrow. During school field trips “Patty Patches will teach children everything about scarecrows, their job in the field, and the children will even get to build their own scarecrow, similar to the ‘Build a Bear’ concept in which they will get a certificate to take home detailing their experience,” Abany explained.
When Pungo Farms opens on Sept. 4, the barn will be stocked with pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, gourds, fodder, straw and a variety of fall décor. Amanda and her mother will make fall wreaths, and they will be selling handmade soaps from River Hippie, owned by Ashley Worley, Castlewood, Virginia.
In addition, the Johnsons will be selling the beautiful, colorful fall mums that Walter Manis always sold. “Walter has helped with that transition, ensuring that we sell the same quality mums from the same producer,” Amanda said.
Along with the fall décor, visitors can purchase a full farm experience for $3. This includes a trip through the corn maze, farm games and a petting zoo. Visitors will also have the option of several fall displays for photographs. The Johnsons plan to hold several special events throughout the season.
In fact, they have already started with a special Facebook contest to encourage visitor participation to the farm. For their grand opening, the Johnsons will be giving away a complete S’mores kit, complete with a fire pit, firewood, skewers, graham crackers and Hershey chocolate bars. The winner will be announced “Live” on Facebook on opening day.
For business customers, Pungo Farms is offering a special fall package delivery. “A local business can call us and tell us the amount of money they want to spend on fall décor, and then we will provide the complete package and deliver to their place of business,” P.J. added. Pungo Farms will deliver fall packages in the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia.
The Johnsons are ready to open. Every member has their assigned job, with older family members running the cash register, while the younger girls will tend to farm activities such as showing children how to gather eggs and help with games and the petting zoo that includes goats, sheep, chickens and a young buck that took up residence with the other animals.
Although the Johnsons would like to break even this first year, their real goal is to have fun and enjoy the adventure. Abany is looking forward to “building a bond with clients.”
With the warmth and close-knit relationship displayed by this family, visitors to Pungo Farms are sure to enjoy time spent with the Johnson family. Walter Manis left his customers in good hands.
Pungo Farms is located at 209 Pungo Dr., Nickelsville, Virginia. Hours of operation are Mon.—Fri, 3 – 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.; and Sun., Sun., 2 – 6 p.m. Visit their website at pungofarms.com or call 276-479-3809.