By Pat Brown
That’s because Susan Sink, her three children and her new spouse have been pouring energy into the family farm which is known regionally as a shining example of agricultural diversification.
The festival will run six full weekends this year, beginning Friday and running until Nov. 3. There will be new activities for youngsters, including pig races and a kid-friendly zip line. There are trail rides for adults and pony rides for kids. Expect a five-acre corn maze, plus a miniature one for toddlers. Hayrides are back, plus friendly encounters with farm animals. Arts and crafts and face painting continue, and delivery of a brand new giant swing set is expected this week, Sink said.
One of the most popular activities involves round hay bales and jumping. New this year is a hatchet throwing contest. (Sink said she stuck her hatchet on the first try.) There will be a pumpkin chuckin’ contest assisted by a trebuchet.
Live bands will fill two different stages each weekend. Acapella groups from Radford and Virginia Tech will be roaming and singing; university dance troupes will perform, as well as local dance schools.
Watch for a Hokie Bird on stilts and a lady scarecrow.
Adults can explore the brewery and wine tents where tastings will be underway. Growing barley on their property allows Sink to call her beautifully decorated barn and event center a brewery. Plans are for the family to embark on brewing their own beer in the future, and some of the equipment is already on site.
Sink says she has always loved decorating and her handiwork is evident both in the brewery barn, the grounds and in the elegant honeymoon suite that used to be a milk barn. “I like combining rustic with elegant, she said.” A gigantic, shimmering light fixture she created from collected glass and canning jars is the brewery’s dramatic centerpiece.
A wedding October 20 at the farm meant that Sink was double tasking on a Friday afternoon the week before her Pumpkin Festival would begin. During the spring and summer about 25 couples chose the farm as their wedding site.
A growing use of the farm is for corporate events. “A lot of times these are appreciation events,” Sink said, and bosses choose to have their gatherings at Sinkland because it is, “a very unique and beautiful property.”
“The farm is my career now and my life,” said Sink. The last seven years she worked, she was a vice president for development for a northern Virginia non-profit. She had an apartment in the D.C. area and was home on weekends. She “retired” about a year-and-a-half ago.
Even though they all have their own careers, her three children pitch in. Curtis, who lives in Radford, is geographically closest. Lisa will come home from Roanoke and Leslie will come from Charlottesville. “We’ll have a houseful,” during pumpkin harvest, said Sink.
She praised her kids: “They come up with phenomenal ideas.”
But Susan Sink’s energy, combined with her experience in event planning, marketing and fund raising are the driving force behind Sinkland Farms these days. (She has a marketing and communications degree from Radford University.)
In the 1980’s , Susan Sink was married to Henry, an aspiring dairy farmer with credentials from Virginia Tech. The two of them dreamed of owning their own farm. They learned that Edwin and Edna Keith of Riner, patriarch and matriarch of a multi-generational farm family line, were seeking to retire.
The Sinks decided to go for it, but they had no assets. They were turned down by every sort of lending institution.
Keith financed the 25 acres, machinery, dairy stock and barns, plus a small house.
On New Year’s Day, 1980, they were to take possession of the farm operations.
“At 2 a.m. we heard a knock on the front door,” she said. “A Montgomery County sheriff’s officer said ‘Your entire milking heard is walking down Route 8.’”
Sink said she did not know how the herd got out, but she has toyed with the idea that Keith, knowing they would face future hardships, may have sought to teach them an early lesson.
They tried a long string of farming ventures until they hit on the pumpkin festival bonanza.
Tragically Henry Sink was killed in a vehicle accident in 2007. The death of her husband, Sink said recently, was “the ultimate bouncing back” challenge she has had to face.
Five weeks ago, she married Roger Williams. He had been a friend of Henry’s when they were both in the dairy farming program at Tech. He lost his wife to cancer and eventually stopped in at Sinkland for a visit.
“We just kept visiting,” Sink said with a little laugh. “He just pitched right in,” working on the farm, said Sink of Williams.
“Since the June 5 (pumpkin) planting, we have had only .8 of an inch of rain,” said Williams, revealing a task he has undertaken. “Pumpkins need an inch of rain a week.”
“I would have nothing if it weren’t for drip irrigation,” said Sink.
“Every zone gets a drink 24 hours per week,” Willliams he added, explaining that a well keeps the irrigation system running “24/7.”
One more facet of agri-tourism that appeals to Susan Sink is the fact that she has been able to host educational field trips for schools.
“Last year we served 8,000 children in grades K-5,” Sink said. “We aligned the program with K-5 SOLs,” she said. “I know the value of experiential learning, being able to see, touch, hear, rather than just reading about.” She got calls from educators in Franklin County and Bluefield, WV. on the same day last week.
This year the family had 25,000 bright orange cards printed to advertise the pumpkin festival. In the parking lot, they will count cars each day to calculate how many visitors they get. “We can park 1,000 cars” Sink said. They calculate four people per car for two-thirds of the total and two people for one-third of the cars.
Other Pumpkin Festival matters require no math. For example, how do you get piglets to sprint when you want them to?
“Oreo cookies,” said Sink with a laugh.