Many Gannon University students would agree that pumpkin spice lattes are delicious, but fall can be celebrated in ways greater than just sipping on the seasonal favorite — like pumpkin shopping, hay wagon rides, corn mazes, campfires and more.
A 35-minute drive from Gannon’s campus, Port Farms is situated between large corn fields at 2055 Stone Quarry Road in Waterford. Port Farms is currently celebrating its Harvest Festival’s 13th season. This year’s festival began in mid-September and will continue until Oct. 31.
The drive to the plantation seems brief because of the beautiful scenery. Farms, enormous fields and a dirt road all can be seen on the commute to Port Farms from downtown Erie.
After parking in the designated free parking area, visitors walk toward the entrance and see haystacks, cornstalks, scarecrows and a glimpse of the freshly harvested pumpkins for sale.
The hundreds of pumpkins, gourds and squash available for purchase take center stage and are surrounded by tiny gift shops, mums of all colors and a cafe offering seasonal drinks like hot or cold cider. The gift shops offer Port Farms T-shirts and hoodies, locally made jams and candles, stuffed animals, fall-themed knick-knacks, toys and much more.
Port Farms is more than just a place to go pumpkin shopping though. With 22 attractions including Kiddie Slides, Slide Mountain, Goat Mountain, Pumpkin Slingshot and a giant Corn Box, Port Farms has something for people of all ages.
One of the most popular attractions for college-aged visitors is the eight-acre corn maze. The maze is designed differently each year, and this year, an aerial photograph shows that the maze depicts historical Fort LeBoeuf.
Vanessa Latzer, a junior social work major, has visited the farm on many occasions. She said there are lots of autumn activities mainly for children, but adults can also partake in most of them.
“I love that there’s a giant inflatable trampoline for adults and a big box of corn kernels that you can play in,” Latzer said.
Latzer said it can be tough to get the full experience on some of the farm’s busy days. “You need to be patient and wait your turn with the little kids.” However, she said still recommends other Gannon students visit Port Farms.
The operation is significant in the community. Not only do the owners — Kelly and Jerry Port — partner with the Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center and Second Harvest Food Bank, but they also hire roughly 50 additional people of all capabilities during the Harvest Festival.
Tiffany Brown, who is in her second season at Port Farms, said that she enjoys working there far more than her other job.
“I like working with country people,” Brown said. “They are nice and have different attitudes.
“My only dislike is how short it [the season] is. When the season is over, there’s no more fun.”
The farm hires many retired locals and teenagers for the harvest season. Whether standing at their post or helping a new visitor navigate the farm, all of the staff members have the brightest smiles on their faces.
Laborers and seasoned visitors agree that the food at Port Farms is satisfying and delicious. Brown recommends the $4 pulled pork sandwich — a favorite among the locals. If you do not like pork, that is all right. Port Farms offers hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. If you intend to have lunch or dinner at the farm, admission is free.
The farm is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. At any time during the operational hours, children are playing, laughing and bouncing from attraction to attraction.
Unlike a fair that sells tickets for each ride, all attractions are included with the admission price. Admission for a child over 3 years old and the majority of Gannon students is $7.95 Monday-Wednesday and $8.95 Thursday-Sunday.
The farm owners try to add one new attraction every year. This year they added the Jumpkin Patch – best described as a sizable combination of a bounce house and a trampoline.
The farm, owned by Kelly and Jerry Port, was established in 1897 and has been in the family for four generations. Each year the owners put out a newspaper called The Farm Post. This year, Kelly Port discussed in the paper why she and Jerry Port decided to open their farm to the public. “We were truly thinking of a way to educate children and adults about farming.”
This year seems to focus largely on educating guests about historical Fort LeBoeuf. The farm honors the Fort LeBoeuf Historical Society with its corn maze design, presentations and a feature in the paper this year.
Along with the newspaper, the owners also communicate their message through their website: www.portfarms.com. The site lists all of the events, weddings, attractions and contact information. It also has a blog and a review section.
Within the review section, a new visitor, Sarah Blackwelder, said she was not sure what to expect, but that she heard people talking about it and wanted to see for herself.
“We had a blast at Port Farms on this beautiful fall day,” she wrote.
Blackwelder wrote in the online review section that she is already planning a second trip before the season ends and that it is reasonably priced with so much to do.
If you want to visit the plantation during Harvest Festival, admission for anyone ages 3-60 is $7.95 Monday-Wednesday and $8.95 Thursday-Sunday. Admission is free for anyone with a military ID and children less than 2 years old. Admission for visitors over 60 years old is $5.
During the Harvest Festival, the owners encourage local schools to schedule field trips at the farm by offering them a discounted rate. Admission cost $6 per student on a school tour. However, the farm does not give college students discounts for showing their student IDs.
Port Farms also hosts weddings in its timbered Events Barn. The picture-perfect barn has a maximum capacity of 200 people.
The farm’s staff offers to cater the weddings or events with home-style prepared food.
The farm also began allowing visitors to purchase a campfire site for $50 on weekends during the Harvest Festival. The purchaser can host a three-hour campfire for up to 20 people. Campfire goers must still pay admission into the farm.
The farm is excited for its upcoming event “Corn Dogs” on Oct. 31, where visitors can bring their dogs for a walk in the corn maze. Dogs are otherwise not allowed at the farm.
If you cannot find time to visit during Harvest Festival, Ports Farm will also be open during the holiday season offering a grand selection of Christmas trees. The farm staff can help you find the right tree for your dorm or apartment.
Amber Kuchcinski, a local patron, went to Port Farms for her Christmas tree. She said she and her family picked one, cut it down and hauled it up to be shaken, drilled and baled by the farm’s staff.
While the staff performed these complimentary services, Kuchcinski said she and her family enjoyed some activities in the Events Barn. When they returned to get their tree, it was gone.
Kuchcinski said someone accidentally took her family’s tree. Kuchcinski said the staff at Port Farms not only refunded their money, but they went out of their way to drive them across the farm to pick out a new tree for free. They also gave her family a free tree stand.
“This was definitely not expected, but it just goes to show the amazing customer service that goes on there,” Kuchcinski said.