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Finding Minnesota: Pumpkin Patch Festival

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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LITCHFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) — Pretty soon, families will start testing their carving skills on this year’s jack-o-lanterns. But a few of the pumpkins from one Minnesota farm never make it that far.

Instead, they’re launched from a giant contraption and smashed to pieces — as big crowds cheer.

It’s part of the annual Pumpkin Patch Festival at the Nelson Family Farm near Litchfield.

It’s the brainchild of Sonja and Don Nelson.

“I like to play with things and fix them,” said Don Nelson, 68. “And when you’re on a farm, you’re always fixing something.”

About 10 years ago, he built something -– an old fashioned trebuchet.

It’s a 20-foot launching mechanism like those used by soldiers in the 12th century.

But instead of hurling rocks to protect a castle, Nelson launches pumpkins to entertain a crowd.

“We actually call this on our farm ‘the Pumpkin Chucker Flinger Thinger,'” said Nelson with a laugh.

It’s one big feature of what’s become one of the biggest fall festivals in central Minnesota, all on the Nelson farm.

“I just love going around the farm and watching people have fun,” Nelson said.

“You know what,” added his wife, Sonja, “someone told me ‘this is more fun than Disney World!'”

In the past 20 years, the Nelson family has built things to climb on, to sift through, to throw around, and get lost in, on their 40-acre property.

The features include a giant corn maze, wagon rides, corn cob golf, tree forts and farm animals.

“You haven’t seen anything scary or spooky,” said Nelson. “Life is, I think, scary enough without making it scarier.”

It takes quite a process to get the Pumpkin Chucker Flinger Thinger locked and loaded, which is why it only goes off twice a day.

But when it does, it gets quite a reaction.

“I think it’s the whole action,” said Nelson, “because it only takes between six and seven seconds and it’s all over with. But when it’s all over with, I’ve watched the crowd. They just stand there in awe.”

The Pumpkin Patch Festival takes place on Saturdays and Sundays at the Nelson Farm, through Oct. 30.

But they’re adding a couple of days during teacher conferences, on Oct. 20 and 21.

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