Pick Your Perfect Pumpkin at Garner Farms
When best friends Clayton Garner Jr. and Greg Garner (who share a last name, but aren’t related) graduated from West Carteret High School together in 1989, they had no idea that 26 years later they would become business partners. But that’s exactly what happened in 2015, when Clayton Jr., a third-generation row crop farmer, and Greg, who grows greenhouse plants and does landscaping, opened a corn maze and u-pick pumpkin patch in Carteret County along Highway 70 near Newport.
“We’ve been friends since we were 3 or 4 years old,” Clayton says. “Greg’s family and our family both had a place on the water, and Newport was a small town, so we grew up playing together. We were the same age.”
After they graduated high school, life led the friends in different directions. Clayton followed in the footsteps of his father, Clayton Sr., and grandfather, Sam, and became a farmer, growing all kinds of produce – asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, sweet corn and more. Greg became a licensed landscape contractor and opened his own business, Garner’s Landscaping & The Plant Stand, a full-service landscaping company and retail nursery specializing in locally grown flowers, hanging baskets, veggie plants and herb plants.
When Greg outgrew his former location, Clayton invited him to relocate his business to Garner Farms in Newport, which he did in January 2015. The merge created a destination for locally grown produce, flowers and plants. Clayton Jr. and Greg sell their vegetables and plants at their home stand at Garner Farms, as well as a satellite stand in New Bern and at the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market on Saturdays. Customers can also pick their own strawberries in the spring.
Family Fun at Garner Farms
Their goal is to support one another and the agriculture industry they both love.
“We decided to put on an Easter event on the farm for the community to raise awareness that Greg had moved here, and we advertised it on Facebook,” Clayton says. “We expected about 200 people, and 1,000 people showed up. We had horse rides, hayrides, shaved ice, a burrito truck and an Easter egg hunt.”
The Easter event was so successful that the pair decided to open the farm to the public again in the fall, inviting people to come visit the u-pick pumpkin patch and get lost in a corn maze. Garner Farms opened to the public from September through the first week of November in 2015.
“We took visitors on a hayride from the corn maze to the pumpkin patch,” Clayton says. “We also have a corn kernel pit, which is like a corn swimming pool, and sand to dig in and a tire mountain kids can climb. It’s clean, family-oriented fun. Kids can enjoy themselves and not have a computer or video game in their hands.”
Greg grew 5,000 fall mums that were sold last fall too, and he fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“I had always wanted to build a ‘pumpkin chunker,’ and I finally got to do it,” he laughs, referring to a device that catapults pumpkins across long distances. “Clayton and I built the trebuchet with materials we found around the farm. It was a hit, because there isn’t one of those in our area. It all just took off very well.”
A Family Affair
Clayton’s wife, Sherri, and Greg’s wife, Jacki, are also involved in the business. Sherri handles the office work and manages the produce stand on the farm. Jacki manages The Plant Stand and also works in the office. The two families are growing even more pumpkins for the 2016 season to keep up with demand.
“It’s amazing how fast word gets around,” Clayton says. “The traffic we had was unbelievable. We were running four tractors to and from the pumpkin patch all the time. I enjoy showing people what we do, and when people acknowledge and appreciate what we’re doing – growing food – it inspires us to do more and do it even better.”
Greg says it’s rewarding to educate people about the life cycle of pumpkins and plants, and see them enjoy going on a hayride and spending time on the farm.
“A hayride is no big deal to me, but getting in a trailer full of hay is a big deal to people who spend 90 percent of their life on concrete,” he explains. “They feel the bump of the road and the squishy mud, get a little dust in their teeth and walk through the vines instead of buying a pumpkin out of a cardboard box. It’s an experience they wouldn’t get if they weren’t on a farm.”
For Clayton, agritourism has been a way to add value to his farm.
“In agriculture, it seems every few years you have to get into something new to make money or to fill in the gaps,” he explains. “Corn and soybeans, for example, are in the tank as far as prices right now, so agritourism is a good side business and has the potential to be a real asset to our farm.”
The Garners plan to make their fall 2016 season bigger and better.
“Figuring out the parking has been the hardest part,” Clayton says. “So far, we’re just scratching the surface of agritourism, but in three or four years, the sky’s the limit. We’re building it from the ground up.”
If You Go...
Visit ncfarmfresh.com to see more U-pick farms across the state.