Justin’s number one goal this fall was to go to a pumpkin patch. The big place around here is A. Casola Farms for all the usuals: pumpkin picking, a display of mums, a hay ride, and of course, a “haunted” hay ride. We were all set to go to this when my mom found a brochure at her job advertising Holland Ridge Farms in the middle of nowhere at Cream Ridge, New Jersey. Since we were all off on the same day (a rare occurrence), we went together. We figured this would be a nice outing and the perfect way to kick off the fall.
The owners of this place (and some of the workers judging by their accents) are from Holland. That was a good start. I read online how they have an enormous tulip display every year. We were all pretty excited for this visit which round-trip was 90 miles. Beforehand, we already knew about the $8.50 admission fee. Most places in my area of the Jersey Shore are free (you then pay for the hay ride, pumpkins, etc). But no, Holland Ridge charges admission and then you have to pay for the hay ride and anything else you buy.
Now, I know going to such a place on a Tuesday afternoon meant we missed out on an atmosphere surcharged by massive crowds you would garner on a weekend. But with that already known, this place managed to seem deader than Christopher Lee after his seven sequels as Dracula. Once you pay your admission, you are confronted by a series of building and a dirt path. There are multiple sunflower fields, a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hay maze, and other barn-like structures. The website also advertised a row of food trucks.
The first thing we noticed was a single, solitary food truck that sold “things on a stick”. From fruit to chicken and waffles, they had it all. I didn’t see anyone actually working in the truck. A woman dressed in what looked like colonial garb then approached us to welcome us. She talked for 10 minutes about how wonderful everything was. The key portion of her shtick was to mention the adorable baby calf new to this world and hanging out in the barn. She said it was an “amazing” sight and not to miss. When she was done, Justin asked her where the corn maze was and she actually shrugged her shoulders and said she forgot and did not know. It happened to be straight down the path we were standing on.
We found it easily, shortly after a stop at the barn. The amazing calf was sitting in the corner, neglected and covered with so many flies that it made me want to break her out of there and lead her to freedom. An adjacent fenced-in field showcased more standard barnyard animals but they were grazing so far away from the fence that you couldn’t tell the difference between an alpaca and a duck.
The corn maze then awaited us. This was no doubt meant for little children as it took us about 10 minutes (and zero prayers to the Almighty for help) to complete. The hay maze was even worse. We didn’t even bother to check it out as I noticed the bales were not stacked high enough to make it a challenge.
From there, we were charged two dollars each to go on the hay ride. This tractor pulled the cart around in a circle, showing us what we could have seen on foot and finishing up in about 15 minutes. The sunflowers in their field had seen better days, and I don’t know how the pumpkin patch would have withstood a weekend rush. After hopping off the wagon, we made our way to the “bakery”. As we walked over, Justin had pondered out loud, “I wonder what they have there.” A worker walking by said (and this is without a doubt) sarcastically, “Oh, they have lots of stuff in there.” Inside was a woman sitting by a fan. It was hot as hell. A dingy refrigerator caked in scum and dirt displayed some cakes, breads, and pastries. We passed. On our way out, we did order apple cider. This was poured into a Dixie cup from a generic store-bought bottle. There was even ice, taking up more room in the cup. The charge was $3 each.
The gift shop was another laughable venture. It featured hundreds of tchochki wooden clogs and key chains. It was here I noticed that every worker seemed miserable. While all of them greeted us and said hello, they seemed locked in a trance. Perhaps they were taken captive from their native Holland?
Last but not least, there was a barn with an informational video. It contained two nearly identical 30 second commercials about Holland Ridge which did nothing but show aerial shots of their sunflowers and a third about Vincent Van Gogh. This last one was a cartoon where the voices did not match up with the movement of lips. It was essentially a mini biography of the painter. Halfway through, I accidentally let out a large cackle—almost a snort. My mom and Justin both turned and asked what happened. All I could say was, “Oh my God, this is so bad.”
That can pretty much be used to describe Holland Ridge. We wanted an experience, and we got one. Yes, we created memories and it was nice to do something like this in the fall, but this place desperately needed to beef up their lineup. If they are going to make visitors on weekdays suffer so much, perhaps they should not be open. That was the vibe I got: “It’s a Tuesday, so we don’t give a shit.” Not very appealing. The only—and I mean only—thing I will give them is the price of their pumpkins. They charged $2 for a large and three for $1 on the small ones. One small saving grace before we hit the road.