Anyone who’s lived in or around the Triangle for more than a few years understands that change is the only real constant in these parts. People who have lived here for more than a few decades will remember a time when the endless expanses of residential and commercial developments were vast fields of tobacco and other crops.
Danny Page, owner and namesake of Page Farms, has had a front-row seat to all of it.
The Page Family Farm
Page doesn’t just own the farm that bears his family name, he grew up here. His family has owned the farm for nearly a century.
“The farm was purchased by my granddaddy in 1922,” he said. “I’m the third generation. My kids and my brother’s kid are the fourth generation to live on the farm.”
Page Farms, which literally sits on the line between Durham and Wake County off of US-70, hasn’t always been a pumpkin farm. Before the early 2000s, Page grew North Carolina’s most iconic crop.
“I used to be a tobacco farmer,” he said. “In 2007 I switched over to strawberries, and then in about 2010 I started doing the pumpkins.”
That timing is an important part of North Carolina’s agriculture story. Page certainly wouldn’t have been the only farmer to switch crops at that time.
In 2005, as part of the American Jobs Act, the federal government implemented the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act. This new program was designed to make American tobacco, which had had its price regulated, more competitive for export with the growing international tobacco market.
The initial result was a drop in wholesale tobacco prices. In order to combat the loss of income, the government began the Tobacco Transition Payment Program (TTPP), known around here as the “tobacco buyout.” This program paid farmers to compensate for their losses, but many of them could no longer compete with growers where land and labor were more costly.
These buyouts accelerated a trend that was reshaping the countryside around the Triangle.
“When the tobacco buyout came, I couldn’t compete against the ones down east,” said Page. “Land up here, it was being sold for development. Just about all the farms I used to rent have houses on them today.”
Running A Pumpkin Patch in NC
Page Farms has many of the activities you’d find at family farms around the state. The farm has play areas and activities for children, a corn maze, a hay ride, and of course, pumpkins.
While many modern family farms have gravitated towards more activities, Page says he doesn’t want to lose site of the main attraction.
“We never had any bouncy houses or anything like that,” he said. “We’ve always tried to keep it agriculture-related.”
And that’s not just Page being a stubborn traditionalist. He says that his main demographic is the Triangle’s millennials and that the rural experience is what they seem to want.
“That’s kind of what I’m catering to,” he said. “When they come out, they don’t really get to experience the country. This is just about as close to country as you can get in Raleigh and Durham.”
It’s not just millennials themselves. With many in the generation now parents themselves, Page Farms gives them a chance to introduce their children to farm life.
“A lot of kids have never seen a cow up close,” said Page. “In the mornings, they come in early. The cows come into the barn and while we’re feeding them, the kids get to see them up close.”
COVID-19 Threatens The NC Pumpkin Patch
Like many business owners across the country, Page had plenty to of concerns this spring when COVID-19 caused illness, panic, and shutdowns.
With strawberry season just upon him, state health regulations forced Page to shut his farm down temporarily.
“At first, it was a little misleading,” he said. “With what I understood from [Governor] Cooper to start off with, there was no way we could operate. We were just out of business.”
School closures also added another concern, as Page Farms is a popular destination for school field trips.
“This year, we lost all the field trips,” said Page. “That was half of all income.”
However, as the state began to form a more concrete plan, the farm was once again able to open up and take in visitors.
“Later on they sent some other rules down to us,” said Page. “It was 12 people for every 1,000 square feet. So when you’re wide open like we are right here and with as many acres as we can spread people on, I felt like we were in good shape.”
As he reopened, Page made sure to create a safe environment for visitors to the farm. He shut down a few activities that he thought could be hot spots and placed signs reminding people to wear masks around the entirety of the farm.
“We put up extra hand sanitizer all around,” he said. “When it gets busy we start running people through a chute to keep from going in and out together. At night time we try to spray everything down.”
Page also made it easier for people to keep their distance from others. He noted that the response to these changes has been strong.
“We put in the walking path so that people who didn’t feel comfortable on the hayride could walk over,” he said. “Actually, I feel like 50% of the people are walking over to the pumpkin patch.”
What’s in Store For Page Farm
The good news for Page and his farm is that despite the pandemic, business has bounced back in a big way.
“Last year on a Thursday we would have had probably half as many people here,” he said.
Even the tour groups have started to come back, although in a different age range.
“We actually had a rest home that came out today,” said Page. They brought eight senior citizens. I believe one of them was 96 years old. I thought that was pretty cool. One grew up here in Raleigh. She hadn’t ever been out here before. They went on the hayride.”
It’s obvious that the hayride is a point of pride for Page. He smiles whenever it comes up and it’s not hard to see why. He’s engineered the ride to give a defacto tour of the property through lush hills, a pine forest, and eventually fields full of bright orange pumpkins still on the vine.
Whether you’re seeing that pastoral scene for the first time or being reminded of a Triangle area that now seems like the distant past, the effect it has on people is still the same. Danny Page knows that.
“I think the hayride going through the cow pasture, through the big pines, and all is very special,” he said, smiling. “You don’t get to see that kind of view in too many places like that.”