Washington Farms celebrates 25 years of farming, family and faith.
By LEILA SCOGGINS
John and Donna Washington, owners of Washington Farms in Watkinsville, started their family farm from scratch- building it from the ground up into what it has become today. “I’m not haughty, I’m not arrogant, but something I do take some pride in is I look at some other farms that do what we do and they started on a family farm,” says John Washington.
“We didn’t even own a shovel,” adds Donna Washington. The Washingtons felt God’s calling to leave their jobs as house parents at Eagle Ranch, a ministry for children and families, to establish a business that would allow them to raise their own family. John came across a pick-your-own strawberry farm in North Carolina and thought that it would be the perfect business to raise his kids on. “I was going to grow something- I was going to play in the dirt, so we started the farm in 1993,” says John. “This is our 25th anniversary.”
After meeting with a seller about a piece of property, John knew the time to establish the farm was upon them. He had been praying about four things and during his meeting with the seller, all four topics were answered. “I hopped in the car and called Donna and said if we don’t do this, God doesn’t need to waste his time telling me anything because this is as clear as I have ever been directed to do something,” says John.
The Washingtons began their farm on a different piece of property before moving to their current location in 2000. Three years into farming strawberries, John watched as 60 percent of his crop was taken out by a late freeze. The family quickly realized they needed to diversify their farm, adding pumpkins and a fall season of activities to their offerings the next season. “It’s been amazing to see how God has worked and put his hand on our farm,” says John.
After several years on their original piece of property, John had decided it was time to move the farm to a new location. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by the same man who had sold him the first piece of property asking him to pray about selling the land. “I said Coleman, I am through praying. I have been praying about this for a while,” John explains.
After selling the original piece of property, the Washingtons had their eye on their current location. However, it was under contract by another buyer. God again proved his faithfulness to the farmers by not only allowing the sale to fall through, but also allowing them the opportunity to purchase their current location while also giving them access to their crop they had already planted on their former property.
The new owners not only allowed the Washington’s to harvest their strawberry plants but also to plant another season of pumpkins. Meanwhile, they began preparing their new farm to be ready for harvesting season.
Originally, Washington Farm’s offered pick-your-own strawberries and pumpkins as well as hayrides and a petting zoo in the fall and they have since expanded and diversified. “Just time and time again there have been things that have happened and the only way we can explain it is that God has just taken care of us,” says John.
Today, Washington Farms continues to offer pick-your-own strawberries, and have added blueberries and blackberries in the spring, which has since led the family to add a second strawberry farm in Loganville. For 25 years, John, Donna and their five children have been committed to the farm’s motto of “making memories.” Washington Farms has become a day-trip destination for families from near and far in the fall. The farm is now home to a large corn maze and a number of other family friendly activities.
“You’re not supposed to grow pumpkins in Athens, Georgia. It’s too hot,” says John. Despite the fact that pumpkins are generally grown in cooler climates, John has been committed to growing and selling pick-your own pumpkins for many years. Annually, Washington Farms grows two-and-a-half to three acres of pumpkins on their property.
“If you get here in the first couple of weeks, you can go out there and cut your own pumpkins off the vine,” John explains. When all the ripe Washington Farms pumpkins are picked, they begin to bring in pumpkins from other places, scattering them across their fields for families to enjoy the experience of rolling a wheelbarrow out and picking the perfect gourd. “They have a lot of fun just going out in the field,” John notes.
In 2002, John and Donna realized that they had a unique opportunity to reach two new demographics, high school and college students. The farm’s Watkinsville location allows easy access to two local high schools as well as John’s alma mater, the University of Georgia, and other area colleges. The family had heard about the rise in popularity of corn mazes, but at their former location did not have the amount of land needed to house a maze.
Today, the Washington Farms corn maze fills eight acres of land with corn making nearly two miles of paths. The Washington’s are part of a corn maze group called The MAiZE, which was started by five college students in Utah many years ago. The group allows famers like the Washingtons to gather together once a year in the offseason and share their struggles and success. “We go to a corn maze conference, we call it our corn party,” says John. “It’s just a bunch of redneck farmers all getting together and sharing ideas and having fun together going to different farms.”
During the conference, farm owners hear from motivational speakers and have access to resources for enhancing their farms’ activities. Each year in the spring, John and Donna come up with an idea for the design of that year’s maze. The MAiZE then uses a computer program to create the maze and have a team of maze cutters that come to the farm each year to make the vision a reality.
This year’s Washington Farms corn maze will revolve around the theme “25 years of making memories” to celebrate the farm’s anniversary. After entering down one of the maze’s two slides, or walking in, attendees will find signs with clues for which way to go, called CORNundrums. Each question will revolve around Washington Farms’ history.
In years past, Washington Farms has crafted mazes around the African ministry, “Kupendwa,” of John and Donna’s daughter, Amy. The Kupendwa maze featured images of Africa and Georgia joined by a dotted line, a native African Tree and an African woman with a bowl on her head. During that season, a dollar amount of proceeds from tickets was donated to the ministry. John says his favorite design would have to be the UGA themed maze that featured a Georgia “G” and the words “Go Dawgs.” He recalls how ESPN traveled to the farm to do a special on that year’s maze.
The farmers in The MAiZE group also collaborate on designs for other activities, many times building the pieces needed and offering them to members for reasonable prices. During the current fall, Washington Farms has family activities such as a cow train, jumping pillows, pig races, a corn box, a vortex tunnel, an extra large rocking chair perfect for picture taking, corn cannons and pumpkin sling shots, campfires at night and other many games.
Families can also pick sunflowers and wildflowers in the farm’s fields. The fall concession stands at Washington Farms feature homemade kettle popcorn and fresh squeezed lemonade along with other tasty treats that can be enjoyed in the pavilion or around the campfires.
Washington Farms has several special activities planned to celebrate their 25th anniversary. For more information, hours and ticket prices visit washingtonfarms.net.