VERSAILLES — After Terry and Susie Boyd bought Claude Kaenzig's orchard operation in 2003, Kaenzig continued to keep a close eye on his old business. He lived next door, so that didn't require much effort.
He watched as the Boyds added a large store, a playground, a cafe and other attractions. One day, he walked over to be closer to the action and settled into a rocking chair. "I didn't know you were going to turn this place into Disney World," he said.
Pull into the parking lot on a sunny fall day, and the concept of an "entertainment farm" becomes clear: hayrides, corn maze, petting zoo — pretty much anything that falls in the category of "family fun." The Boyds are out here every day, leading school tours and making sure the fun doesn't stop.
But it's the homegrown fruits and vegetables that are the mainstay of the operation — rows of apple, peach and pear trees, fields of berries and 7 to 8 acres of pumpkins.
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Head out to the pumpkin patch, and it's easy to forget the giant slide and cider doughnuts over the rise. You can hear the breeze blow and an occasional thud as an apple from a nearby you-pick tree hits the ground. (The rest have been thoroughly harvested.)
Terry Boyd walks among the pumpkin vines and engages in some farm talk.
Whoever coined the phrase "dirt-cheap" must not have earned a living from the land.
"I've never seen soil like this in my life," says Boyd of the deep Maury silt loam. "I think you could put a steel rod in the ground and it would send out roots."
He points to peach trees whose trunks show a girth rare for their young lives.
"This farm is so rich that I hardly ever fertilize."
Deep topsoil like that is far from a given around here, he says. The next farm over might have barely an inch or two. Part of that is the lay of the land, but part is also due to Kaenzig's old orchard enriching the soil year after year.
Boyd, a fifth-generation apple grower, used to work 1,000 acres in southern Illinois. Many evenings he and his employees would load up eight to 12 waiting tractor-trailers with the fruit of the land. But in the 1990s, the apple market "went kaput," he says, because of oversupply. His wife suggested trying their hands at some retail business. "We built a straw maze and started with a little ice chest. The first season, we probably sold 20 gallons of cider. Now we sell 12,000 to 14,000 gallons."
The move to bountiful
It's extremely rare that a farmer with deep roots in the land will pick up and move his operation 300 miles, says Boyd. But there just wasn't the customer base to grow the retail business where they were. Friends encouraged them to look at Central Kentucky, with its fertile land and plentiful families.
They tried to buy Garretts Orchard — "I used to supply him with apples" — but that didn't pan out. On Pinckard Pike, Kaenzig was ready to retire, and a deal was struck.
"My old life was much easier, sending things out on truckloads," Boyd says. Running an entertainment farm, he hasn't had a day off since March. His wife, Susie, puts in long hours with the school tours, and twins Ali and Hunter, 17, perform lots of entertainment-farm chores when not in school. The Boyds also employ dozens of seasonal employees.
For thousands to have fun, others have to work hard. "But we're very happy with our decision," says Boyd. "Our customers here are fantastic. They've just made it so pleasant."
Not today, honey, it's too hot to pollinate
Pumpkins have gotten more difficult to grow, says Boyd.
"You used to basically throw seeds on the ground, and they'd grow. ... Now I get a call almost every day about people whose pumpkins have wilted. It didn't used to be that way."
The stink bug is a big nemesis, and "last year's drought just killed us."
But this year has been a good one, with close to a 100 percent harvest.
Boyd plants several varieties. Aladdin makes a large, classic jack-o'-lantern. Sorcerer is medium-size and a deep orange.
In late spring they mix the seeds in a bucket and have four plantings, a week apart, to guarantee a good crop.
"Pumpkins won't pollinate above 92 degrees, so if they bloom at the hottest time, you won't get pumpkins."
A variety called Field Trip produces a small pumpkin perfect for school outings.
At the height of the season, hundreds of kids can come to Boyd's every day. Susie Boyd is their guide, giving lessons in farming that fit the curriculum. Later, the kids head out to the Field Trip patch.
To every crop, there is a season
This fall, the good weekend weather has brought crowds out in record numbers for fruit and vegetable picking and all the other attractions.
But Halloween marks the finish line. The next day, the Boyds' payroll will drop from 70 to five.
Between now and then, there's one more weekend festival, and even if the you-pick is nearly picked out, there are still pumpkins, bushels of fruit and all the family entertainment one farm can provide.
"We're beginning to be a tradition," say the Kentucky transplants. For Boyd, it is a lucky coincidence that his busy season ends just as UK basketball cranks up.
There are days in fall when Boyd Orchard can seem almost Disney-esque. But there are other, less busy seasons. The Boyds hope more visitors will come in June for asparagus and strawberries and later in summer for corn, grapes and blackberries. In November, there will still be squash. And there are always rows of fruit trees to wander through.
Mr. Kaenzig died in 2009, but his orchard lives on, renewed and repackaged. It's just, as one visitor said, "like Kaenzig's on steroids."