15954 Woods Valley Road, Valley Center
There are many bright blooms and small, pale pumpkins underneath the broad leaves of the pumpkin plants on the 100-acre Bates Nut Farm in August.
On a recent weekend, a man who identified himself as Grandpa Jon, 52, said he usually comes out on Saturdays with his two grandkids from nearby Escondido. There is no cost to visit the farm and no charge for parking.
Grandpa Jon said he travels the fifteen miles or so with four-year-old Richard and three-year-old Ellie to give their mom a break on weekend mornings. Inside the farm's store he purchases snacks for the kids and fifty-cent packets of corn to feed the animals.
Besides the packets of corn that are sold inside the store, next to the pens of goats and sheep there is a dispenser that will also drop a handful of corn kernels for a quarter.
Bates Nut Farm has picnic tables under shady trees near the animal pens, which also feature miniature donkeys and alpaca. Children are also entertained by chickens and turkeys and geese in their own enclosures, and their constant background chatter creates a true barnyard feel.
Bates Nut Farm was founded in 1921 as a walnut farm. According to Sherrie Bates, the great-grand daughter of founders Gilbert and Beatrice Bates, the useful life-span of a walnut tree is about fifty years, so the original trees are now gone. Sherrie Bates said the farm now purchases the many different kinds of nuts that they roast and package and sell in their shop; however, they find that walnuts are still their best-selling nut product.
Inside the pleasantly air-conditioned store, the farm offers more than twenty different varieties of fudge, which is made fresh on the premises. Every variety is priced the same, at $13.99 per pound, to encourage visitors to mix and match. “In October we will have pumpkin-flavored fudge that tastes just like pumpkin pie,” said Rose Delgado, a shop manager.
The young ladies behind the fudge counter, Taylor Yates, 20, and Megan Upson, 17, agreed that the best-selling flavor is "dark chocolate caramel sea salt." Both women are kept busy slicing off little samples for visitors to try.
A woman working at the cash register, 94-year-old Julie Cowan, was introduced as the farm’s most dependable employee. She has worked there 48 years.
Bates Nut Farm has seasonal fun calendared on most weekends. On the afternoon of Saturday, August 23, the farm has arranged for sixteen different gourmet food trucks to be available for persons participating in their "Back to the '80s" theme party. The schedule lists an '80s costume contest and live entertainment by a Michael Jackson tribute artist and the Santana Brothers.