For the past 30 years, Deacon Ken Trabbic and his wife, Sharon, have used pumpkin farming as a way to share their faith — and it’s working
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ERIE — It’s a beautiful fall morning in October, and the pumpkin patch at Trabbic Family Farm is already bustling.
Children leap between straw bales, families pose for photos and sip cider while munching on donuts and popcorn. It’s an unusual year, but the familiarity of such fall rituals brings a welcome sense of comfort to those visiting the farm in southern Monroe County.
Deacon Ken and Sharon Trabbic started the pumpkin operation 30 years ago as a way to involve their own children in the family farm, but these days, seeing families enjoy time together is its own reward.
The farm itself, which also grows wheat, field corn, soybeans and hay, has been in the Trabbic family for more than 100 years, but the couple first decided to plant three acres of pumpkins when their oldest son was 2.
Since then, the business — and the family — have steadily grown. They now plant more than 40 acres of pumpkins annually and have five adult children to help out during the busy fall season.
“Farming reminds me of everything in our life that God has given us,” said Deacon Trabbic, who has served for the past 19 years at St. Joseph Parish in Erie. “He gives us the gifts and if we do good deeds and use our gifts, there will be great fruit that will come from it.”
The farm is as much a ministry as a business for the Trabbics, who share their Catholic faith openly with visitors through conversations and décor that includes giant pumpkins emblazoned with prayers and spiritually uplifting messages. Sharon Trabbic, joined by her daughter Mary, carefully etches these messages into the pumpkins early in the season when they are small, scarring the thin skin using the same tool she uses to make rosaries.
The scar grows with the pumpkin, with eye-catching results. One giant pumpkin proclaiming “God Bless You” greets visitors at the farm store; another bearing the words, “Pray to End Abortion” always holds a prominent spot in the pumpkin patch.
Promoting respect for life has been a focus since the beginning, Sharon Trabbic says. One year, a woman visited the farm with her daughter, who was pregnant and considering abortion. The Trabbics prayed with them, and the following year, the woman returned with her daughter and grandchild.
Many others have found their hearts touched by God at the farm over the years, Deacon Trabbic said. The setting gives them an opportunity to consider the faith without feeling pressured.
“People will come and say, ‘I see that you are Catholic. I was Catholic once,’” Deacon Trabbic said. “This often opens the door to deeper spiritual conversations.”
Sharon Trabbic makes rosaries, which are available in the farm store, which also features religious literature.
Each year since Deacon Trabbic was ordained, the family celebrates a harvest Mass on the first Sunday in October in the barn, which is converted to a makeshift chapel. Local Catholic school children and other groups have attended Masses there in the past, although the pandemic has prevented that this year.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, however, regular crowds haven’t slowed, and many families with children are still visiting.
The couple has never advertised the farm, but word of mouth ensures a steady business each year. People who came as children now return as adults, married with their own children. There is plenty to keep them busy — activities have evolved through the years to include rides, a play area, corn maze and an “Animal Kingdom” filled with farm animals.
Celebrating the harvest has always been the focus of their business, rather than Halloween. Deacon Trabbic says people need to realize that farms aren’t the source of their food — as important as they are.
“It has to come first from God above,” he said.
Deacon Trabbic says his vocation as a deacon goes “hand in hand” with his vocation as a farmer because farming is nothing without God, who provides the rain and the sun needed to bring the crops to fruition.
“I have to do my 10 percent well, but He does all the 90 percent,” Deacon Trabbic said.
It doesn’t always work out, Sharon Trabbic adds. Some years are more difficult than others.
“But that’s all right, because God’s still in charge,” Deacon Trabbic said.
Trabbic Family Pumpkin Farm
The Trabbic Family Pumpkin Farm, at 1560 E. Sterns Road in Erie, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Oct. 31. Admission and parking are free. For details, call (734) 848-4049 or visit trabbicpumpkinfarm.com.