For many residents in the area, fall does not officially begin until they pick a pumpkin at Bill Jackson’s orchard.

Hundreds of people scattered Sunday throughout the Bowling Green orchard on Slim Island Road, toting pumpkins, sipping apple cider, taking hayrides and participating in other activities. Jackson’s Orchard’s Pumpkin Festival has drawn tourists for the past 30 years, and it has grown and changed over those years, business owner Jackson said.

“And it’s still growing and changing,” he said.

The festival began as a craft show but soon morphed into a fall festival. Now, the Jacksons raise and sell about seven acres of pumpkins. People come not only to pick pumpkins, but also to watch their children play on the large playground – complete with towering slides and an enormous swing set – and eat fall favorites such as candy apples and take hayrides.

Jeleta Higgason’s 3-year-old grandson, Cayden, tugged a red wagon as he marched up the hill toward the bins of pumpkins.

“It’s the start of fall for me,” said Higgason, of Bethpage, Tenn. Higgason, a Bowling Green native, remembers coming to the orchard on school field trips.

Now she looks forward to bringing her grandson to the event, she said.

Others remember coming to the Pumpkin Festival as children, and they now bring their own kids. Taylor Blankenship of Bowling Green watched as her 2-year-old daughter, Allie, peeked inside the pumpkin bins. For Blankenship, the best part of the festival has always been the hayride, she said.

“I feel like it’s just a community thing that we should take advantage of,” she said.

Jackson has owned and operated the orchard for 47 years, and he since has ventured into agritourism, hosting events like the Pumpkin Festival and opening his orchard for tours and sales. Agritourism has fared well even in the midst of a weak economy, Jackson said as long lines of tourists waited to purchase apple treats and walk through the straw maze.

Agritourism is not just important for the economy, Jackson said – it’s also a way to teach children about the importance of agriculture.

“We’re getting to be an urban society,” he said. “So, for kids and people to come back to the farm and reminisce – it’s kind of what it’s about.”

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