Forget the bars, head to Country Pumpkins


An actor is spotted at the entrance of the haunted corn maze. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

So there I was, spending Saturday afternoon surrounded by pumpkins and children much younger than myself running around and getting stoked on everything Halloween.

But never mind age. Who doesn’t appreciate a few barnyard animals, over 20 pumpkin varietals to choose from and a 10-acre corn maze that transforms into a high volume scream-fest when the sun goes down?

Country Pumpkins is located on Highway 32 a few miles before reaching Orland and roughly 10 miles from Chico. You can’t miss the parking lot packed with cars and a field full of orange orbs.

Picking the Choice Country Pumpkin
People pick pumpkins and load them into wagons just in time for Halloween. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

Steve Gruenwald, the owner of Country Pumpkins, takes a few minutes to be summoned for an interview, as he is busy preparing the corn maze for the night on the other side of the property.

As I begin to demolish a tri-tip sandwich smothered in barbecue sauce, Gruenwald appears wielding a shovel, fittingly clad in a farmer-pink pearl snap button-up and a sunhat with Raybans beneath.

I put my sandwich to the side and the two of us sit down for a few minutes to chat about the patch as people pass with wagons filled with Jack-o-Lanterns and Wolf pumpkins.

“We try to keep it small and affordable for every age,” Gruenwald said. “Especially young families, who we see a lot of. But let me tell you, we also see a lot of Chico State students every year too.”

Steve (right)  and Becky Gruenwald
Owners of Country PumpkinOwners of Country Pumpkins, Becky and Steve Gruenwald. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

The Gruenwald family has been running Country Pumpkins for the last 17 years. It all began as a way for Steve and his wife Becky to spend more time with their three children.

The pumpkin patch is a seasonal gig for Gruenwald. He starts planting corn and pumpkins in the first few week of July to prepare for the month-long October opening. It’s only one of the many ways he stays active in the agricultural community. Along with being a crop advisor year round to different farms and agrarian businesses in the area, he also teaches Plant Science 309 at the Chico State University Farm.

It wasn’t until after moving Country Pumpkins five years ago to the current site, which is more centrally located when business began to attract people from all over Butte County.

“The response from Chico State students has been incredible,” Gruenwald said. “There are people who actually get out in the community instead of going downtown and getting hammered during Halloween.”

As our brief conversation comes to a close, the October sun begins to set over the valley. Soon, the corn maze along with the rest of Country Pumpkins gets ready to become a live horror show after dark.

“You hear the sound of chainsaws and all of sudden there’s a guy chasing you,” said Owen Hutsell 4H member and Country Pumpkins participant. “There’s probably a person around every turn waiting to scare you.”

Owen Hutsell
4H member Owen Hutsell. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

I returned a few hours later to get a glimpse of Country Pumpkins’ dark side. Upon opening the car door, screaming was heard in the distance coming from the maze’s interior and a line, seemingly consisting of hundreds of people, stretches in the darkness of the parking lot.

As I come closer to the entrance, elaborately consumed actors covered in blood are ready to greet with a sinister smile. Inside, over 50 actors participate in making the corn maze come alive with different scenes and an array of costumes.

The corn stalks, reaching nearly nine feet towards the night sky, provide close corners and plenty of scream opportunities for the actors, which range from young and old in age, all collaborating to scare the hell out of visitors.

Resisting the need to look over my shoulder every so often, I could feel a chill briefly running up and down my spine, making it a significant Halloween experience a few miles away from the monotony of the bars of downtown Chico.

Actor in Corn Maze
One of the 50 actors in the haunted corn maze. Photo credit: Matthew Manfredi

Country Pumpkins will be open until Oct. 31 but will feature the haunted corn maze on Oct. 28 and 29 starting at 7 p.m. Be sure to make the drive to pick up a pumpkin and get a surprise scare. Visit their website for more information.

Matt Manfredi can be reached at [email protected] or @matthewmanfredi on Twitter.