A popular Iowa pumpkin farm expands its season by growing flowers and releasing butterflies that land in the palm of your hand.
It’s summer time at Bloomsbury Farm near Atkins in eastern Iowa. That time of year when brightly colored blooms flood the countryside and butterflies fill the air.
The farm’s annual Blooms & Butterflies Festival, held July 23 through Aug. 8 this year, provided a chance to experience summer in all its carefree glory.
During the festival, guests stroll or take a hayrack ride through fields of California Giant Zinnias and Cosmos, some up to 4 feet tall with 5-inch blooms. They pick their own flowers by the bucketful.
The butterflies take to the skies at 2 p.m. each day of the festival. A butterfly can be purchased with an admission ticket, to be released as part of the group or on their own whenever the ticket holder chooses.
This year’s variety is the Painted Lady, straight from a small butterfly farm in Massachusetts. Painted Ladies can fly up to 30 miles per hour and can cover 100 miles in a day. The mass of freshly released pollinators is an ode to summer beauty.
There is more to Bloomsbury Farm than clouds of butterflies. The site is home to an array of festivals and seasonal activities.
“We’re a little bit of country,” says Karen Petersen, owner and operator of Bloomsbury Farm. “We love having people here, and we’re here to have a good time.”
After a few winter months of planning and regrouping, the tourism season begins with the Easter Bunny Bash and Baby Animal Days each spring.
September brings the Sunflower Festival. Guests are free to stroll through the fields and stake out the photo op of their choice, even take blooms home with them. A special Bucket of Blooms pass will get you a bucketful.
October is Harvest Festival time, perfect for photos and pumpkin picking. There is an 18-acre U-pick-em pumpkin patch, as well as pre-picked pumpkins for sale and a host of pumpkin-themed games and activities. Of course, photographers are welcome, with some families using the fall foliage as the perfect backdrop for their annual family photos.
If it’s fright you want, Scream Acres is the place to be for Halloween. Trained actors using professional make-up, set design and original scripts create a theater of horrors. Exact dates and times for this year’s scare-fest have yet to be determined. Information will be available on the website soon.
Fall is also the season for the farm’s corn maze, set on 10 acres of land with nearly 2 miles of paths. Each year the maze is dedicated to a cause. This year’s design replicates the Big Brothers and Sisters program logo. The group matches volunteer adult mentors with troubled youth. It’s a way of giving back.
(Photo above: Madison Lucas, 8, of Denver, Colorado, blinks when a butterfly lands on her nose. Right: Bloomsbury Farms in Atkins planted a field of crayon-colored zinnias for its summer Blooms & Butterflies Festival in late July and early August.)
A day at a farm festival includes more than 20 activities for young and old. There is a super slide, Bouncy Town, mini zip line, giant tube slides, a corn palace and barrel train rides. There are barnyard animals, straw bales and tractor tires to climb, and geode smashing and gemstone mining. And pig and duck races.
New attractions are added all the time, like photo frames, a big swing and barnyard croquet.
There are two concession stands, featuring home grown goodness along with local ice cream and a to-die-for lemon slush. There’s also a wine room and beer garden.
The Farm Market features crafts and foodstuffs like honey and homemade fudge from Bloomsbury Farm and local vendors.
Throughout the summer, Bloomsbury Farm hosts school tours, birthday parties, and group and corporate tours.
It is, after all, how the attraction got its start.
Samantha was in the first grade when her teacher asked if the class could come to the Petersen farm. The teacher had heard they had geese and wanted the kids to see them.
The field trip sparked dreams of more for Karen.
Karen and her husband, Dave, are the fifth generation to farm the family farm, recognized this year at the Iowa State Fair as a Heritage Farm — in the family for 150 years. Much of the 1,600 acres is corn and soybeans. “My husband loves dirt and farming,” says Karen. “So did his grandfather and great-uncle. Dave is very conservation minded and is always implementing new technology and conservation practices.”
In the mid-1990s, Karen, a florist, added landscaping and a greenhouse. “I’m a city girl,” she says, “but I fell in love with the farm the first time I saw it.”
It didn’t take long after the infamous first grade field trip until the farm had a pumpkin patch, and Karen had started a fall festival.
One of the first ag tourism sites in the area, she enjoyed then, as she does now, sharing the farm with the community. “People see the machinery and the activity and ask questions. They want to know what’s going on. We’re glad to tell them.”
The festival grew, little by little, year by year. Eventually, Karen branched out into other events and activities, always glad to host a school field trip.
Samantha and her sister, Jessica, are the sixth generation on the farm and grew up with Bloomsbury Farm as a part of life.
They both spent years working away from the farm after college, Samantha at Dow Chemical and Jessica working in agritourism and travel on the East Coast. “We both hit that point in our lives where we had to make a choice whether or not to come back to the farm,” says Samantha, “and our hearts were always here. Now we bring new ideas and festivals.”
Baby Animal Days started in 2018 when Samantha returned. “We’ve now expanded to other seasons and added our corporate events venue with beer, wine and catering capabilities,” she says. They’ve even dipped their feet into the wedding business.
“There’s no question this has been the right decision,” adds Samantha. She enjoys working alongside her parents and sister, building the family business that her parents so lovingly tended and grew to include them.
And the ideas keep coming.
Christmas is next on the agenda, with plans to expand the farm’s holiday offerings. Look for Christmas décor in the farm gift shop, along with caramel apples and kettle corn.
Karen is thinking of movie nights.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Samantha.
Admission tickets for Bloomsbury Farm events are available at www.bloomsburyfarm.com.
Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.