Fall traditions kept alive

Vala’s set to officially open after Labor Day weekend festival


Photo by Tayler Hand

Sophomore Tayler Hand picks an apple at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard over Labor Day weekend. The Apple Festival allowed for Vala’s to have a sort of “test run” before the rest of their fall season. “My favorite part was being able to do something that feels normal in a world of craziness,” Hand said. “It is similar to the pumpkin picking in which you drive out to the fields on the hayrack ride.”

Emma Baker, Catalyst Editor-in-Chief

For most everyone in eastern Nebraska, a trip to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard is essential during the fall season. Turkey legs and kettle corn, pig races and produce picking— what’s not to love?

This past Labor Day weekend, Vala’s opened up for their first-ever Apple Festival. Visitors could hop on a hayrack ride to the 30-acre orchard and pick the delicious fruit straight off the trees. Once the guest’s half-peck bags were filled, they could purchase their harvest for $8.99 a pound. 

“The apple picking was a fun thing to do with friends,” junior Tayler Hand said. “There were only two varieties of apples that were ready to be picked, Gala and Honeycrisp.”

As the season goes on, more apple varieties, from Granny Smith to Braeburn, will be ripe for the picking. On the Vala’s website a listing of each apple, along with their origin, flavor profile, culinary use and picking time, is available.

With a great turn out at the festival, Vala’s is looking forward to yet another busy season beginning September 18. However, their opening has drawn some criticism. Over the weekend, Vala’s made the news, showcasing a video of pumpkin path goers walking around unmasked and not socially distanced. While part of that crowd was due to the holiday, the lack of places open to eat inside of the patch also played a part. Hungry people had to step into longer lines, most with visitors standing back to back. 

Reeder Elementary parent of two, Jen St. Vrain, waited in line for 30 minutes to snag one of their signature turkey legs, only to be told at the counter that they had been out of turkey legs since early that afternoon. Still, she appreciated the opportunity to get out of the house for the day and make memories with her family.

“We will definitely return another time this fall,” St. Vrain said. “When you end the day and hear, ‘This was the best day ever,’ that is always a win. It was busy, but I never felt like it was too crowded to be safe. My only gripe was that the line for the train was not socially distanced at all.”

That is not to say, however, that the choice to socially distance is unavailable. With a live crowd tracker and anticipated attendance calendar available on their website, visitors can plan to their level of comfort and make sure to enjoy the experience. Additionally, Vala’s employees must wear masks, fill out health screenings before each shift and perform extra cleaning duties. Cash is not accepted beyond the admissions booth, and capacity is limited. Obviously, change is plentiful at Vala’s this year, as new activities have sprouted up on the farm as well.

“Certain areas of the pumpkin patch are not going to be open, but they have added a few new attractions that are hands free, like the pumpkin lights trail, a chalk truck, a roller bowler game and a flower field for picture opps,” Millard West attendance secretary and two-year Vala’s employee Amy McDonnell said. “The nice thing about Vala’s is that it is outside and spaced outVala’s is a huge place. They also have hand sanitizer in many places.”

The official opening is sure to bring in many eager guests looking for fall family fun. Next time you’re in the mood for a scrumptious caramel apple, cone of warm chocolate cookies or a walk through the gigantic corn maze, think about grabbing a mask and heading to Vala’s.