Local Food: Farm a fall favorite

Published 10:55 am Friday, September 16, 2011

The Dinges' farm stand opens in late June or early July; gourds are still available in late fall. Photo by Kathie Hempel

If you look up “family farm” in the dictionary don’t be surprised if you see the name Dinges featured. A visit to their farm as they prepare for crowds up to 2,000 or more during September and October weekends gives insight to the importance of family to farm life.
Each fall the family comes together to man a market located on the farm. They work as a team to create the fall festival of activities for young and old, which has made this stop a tradition for many other families from near and far.
Leroy and Elaine Dinges have lived within 2 miles of each other and their current location all their lives. Both grew up on farms and though Leroy once worked with Whirlpool, it is obvious that the love of hard work and what the land produces is born in the blood.
What began as a tiny pumpkin stand on a small round table, now retired to a display of crafts rather than produce, has grown into one of the area’s favorite family fall attractions. Little wonder.
No longer just a market stand (though you find a wealth of fruit and vegetables in season) the Dinges and their now grown twin daughters and son and their families have created an imaginative and playful fall festival. There is something fun to do for all ages so you want to plan this as a family excursion rather than just a quick trip to pick up some groceries. There is so much to see and do.
Twenty varieties of pumpkins are available from Atlantic Giant, Little Iron Side, Triple Threat and mini pumpkins to specialty pumpkins such as Fairytale, Cinderella and Baby Boos. Fifteen varieties of gourds with intriguing names like Birdhouse, Autumn Wings, Snake, Chinese Bottle, African Wine Kettle and Speckled Swan are guaranteed to inspire crafters and home décor.
For those who anxiously await winter squash each year there are 15 different kinds including Turban, Jarradale, Kuri and Lacota alongside more familiar types such as Acorn, Butternut and Hubbard. The Butternut squash beckoned me to dig out my favorite Butternut Ginger soup recipe as temperatures begin to drop and my need for warm comfort foods peaks.
Watching over the pallets of all these, large and small, is a giant Jurassic Park styled dinosaur head in a centerpiece of fall cornstalks and gourds. Nearby a crusty old witch flies, sporting one of Elaine Dinges’ grandmother’s dresses she thinks is probably more than 80 years old.
Other interesting Halloween scarecrows and ghouls dot the landscape and its many interesting activities.  Everything one might need for fall meals and décor can be found.
“Oh these are the Swedish Christmas!” Visitor Epp Raun held up a bunch of dried fall wheat. “This is a tradition of bringing good luck. And you have the Swedish baskets too!” She gathered up her new treasures along with some popping corn, peaches and tomatoes, another satisfied customer.
The Jurassic Park theme continues in the corn maze.  Kids will enjoy the Giant Pumpkin bounce, rides on the Dinges Express and through the Dinges Motor Speedway, the Corn Stalk Tunnel and Teepee and the large play area. Older children and adults may go into the No Left Turn Haybale Maze, the Spooky Semi (Dinges answer to the haunted house) and there are areas for the whole family to enjoy picnics with fire-pits. Larger groups can book the farm’s party tent.
Fifteen years ago  the family added a food stand with hotdogs and bratwurst, hot and cold apple cider, Hot Chocolate, sodas and juices, fresh popcorn, candy and free coffee to the mix. On weekends the stand is sponsored by local youth groups. The Apple Cider Century bicycle ride now considers this one of its scheduled stops during its late September ride.
“It’s a lot of work to get it all ready, but we know we have to have everything in place by that last week of September for when they all ride in,” said Elaine.
Crafters and home decorators will find Dinges selection a dream. Grapevine wreaths, corn swags, painted gourds, Bittersweet, pink and blue Indian corn, dried flowers, mums and sunflowers are all available with many other decorative crafts sure you can continue the fall festival at home.

As you walk through the harvest you will see the work of many family members. In addition to designing and making the props, daughter Rochelle’s husband, Don Necas, has painted many of the gourds and other crafts available for sale. In his day job, Don is a graphic designer with Whirlpool Corp.
The couple purchased the home in which Elaine was raised.
“There is so much of our history in that house. My oldest son hates to say anything changed as he appreciates the older things and what they represent,” said Rochelle.
The 13 grandchildren come out to the farm and many of them are old enough to help pitch in.
“Donnie is only 9 and yet when I needed a half bushel of tomatoes the other day, he went out and picked them for me,” said his proud grandma, Elaine.
Angie (Dinges) Lies is known as the family cook and also helps out during the busy season as does her husband Shane, who is plant manager at Cook Nuclear Plant. Son Mark helps his dad out in the field where there is still so much to do as their 10 acres of Concord and two acres of Niagara grapes are ready to harvest. Even though a contract with Welch’s takes the majority of the grapes, there are still plenty for the farm’s market and those who come out to pick their own.
The farm stand opens in late June/early July and visitors in the know still come out for gourds as the snows begin to fly; however, fall is the busiest time for this always busy family.
“Come November we take the entire family on a vacation to Frankenmuth,” said Elaine. Visitors know that this is a vacation well-earned.

The farm is located at 15219 Mill Rd. at the corner of Mill and Warren Woods. For more information, visit the website at harborcountry.com/guide/dingesfarm or by email the family at dingesfallharvest@yahoo.com. Its phone number is (269) 426-4034.