Even though fall has technically been around for almost three weeks now, it might as well be summer. Everywhere you look it’s still green, which is usually a happy state of affairs. But without the color change, we get grumpy. The big question everyone’s asking is, where the heck is fall? And the answer is: at Lewis Farms.
As soon as you drive into the parking lot of the popular New Era destination point, you feel the autumn thrill. Piles of pumpkins are everywhere, along with corn stalks, haystacks and cheery dolls in farmer’s overalls. Inside the market, harvest décor abounds, along with the seasonal goodies everyone looks forward to, like the pumpkin and apple cider doughnuts, cream cheese-filled pumpkin rolls, pumpkin and apple pies and frozen cider slushes. In a nod to Halloween, a life-sized mummy presides over the café area, and cute black cats with arching backs pop up throughout the store.
“Fall is definitely our busiest time,” notes owner Scott Lewis. “What’s unique about us is that unlike many other businesses, we don’t close after Labor Day. It’s just the opposite. That’s when we’re just getting going. Last weekend, 5,000 people came through.”
But not just through the market. Lewis Farms is perhaps best known for its 20 acres of amusement park-type fun. It’s a family affair, a little bit of paradise for adults and kids alike. There are farm animals galore, grazing in bliss. Llamas and alpacas march up to the fences to peer at visitors. Goats stretch out in the sun, fallow deer wander happily about, and you’ve never seen such contented, colorful chickens. There are also exotic animals, including a celebrity, Jeffrey the Camel, and an aviary where you can feed the parrots. And then there are the games, the rides, the pumpkin patch where you can pick and decorate your own pumpkins, the “Corny Barn” where you can jump into a corn filled pool, the apple shooting range, the Apple Express train to the orchard, the barrel horses, the corn maze, the gem mining, the pig races, the dog show…
“We’re always adding something new,” Lewis says. “When you come here, we want you to see something you’ve never seen before.”
Lewis, a tall, burly, friendly guy casually dressed in a baseball cap and hoodie, loves to talk about the place that is, in essence, his passion. To say that Lewis Farms is in his blood is pretty much of an understatement. He was born into the famous agricultural family, and can’t imagine any other life.
“I grew up half a mile from here,” he smiles. “And I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m fourth generation. I worked on the farm from childhood. My great-great-great grandfather built the house next door in 1878.”
Many people remember Winston Lewis, Scott’s grandfather, the family patriarch who passed away four years ago at the age of 96. When Winston retired, Scott had one goal: to continue the family heritage. And so, as soon as he graduated high school, the enterprising teen bought his grandfather’s half of the 700-acre farm.
“Unlike most kids, who have no idea what they want to do when they head off to college, my future was determined before I went to college.”
Since part of that future was running a substantial family business, the younger Lewis went to Ferris, where he got his business degree. In 2003, he opened the market, an event commemorated by a large framed photo on the wall in the café area, of two towheaded little boys sitting on a bench with a sign that says, “Cherries.”
“That was when we opened,” Lewis laughs. “Those are my sons. They helped sell fruit back then, and they work with me today. Tyler is 25, and his wife, Becca, is our manager. And Brandon is 23. When I retire, the business will go to them.”
Since the early days, the market has expanded so much, and so quickly, that even its owner can’t believe it. “Our parking lot wasn’t here five years ago,” he observes. “We’ve had a very steep building curve. And I think, really? It’s only been five years since we put in the parking lot? We’re always adding things. Always thinking of new attractions.”
From May through October, Lewis Farms is bustling, seven days a week. Then, as soon as Halloween is over, the establishment closes until the following May. But that doesn’t mean that things come to a halt.
“As soon as we close for the season, we start the planning stages for the next season,” Lewis explains. “We travel to other states, to see what other farms are doing. We get ideas from all over the country.”
This year’s new attractions include an Exotic Animal Barn. “It’s interesting finding out about what our guests want,” says Lewis. “Usually it’s more animals. So we have two coatimundis this year. We have lemurs, kangaroos, zebras, a wallabee, emus, designer chickens…We have a good mix of animals, in two heated barns.”
The zoo is the domain of Scott’s wife, Cindy, who’s always had a passion for animals.
“Cindy particularly loves the tortoises,” Scott notes. “She says she never knew tortoises had so much personality.”
“Oh, yes. They know their names. They come when you call them. They’re very sociable. It’s fascinating, the personalities that all the animals have. The goats, for instance, are very curious. They’ll always come up to the fence and greet the guests. And the coatamundis—they’ll smother you. They’ll crawl up your pant leg, or in your shirt. They want so much attention. And they take things. Your hat, your earrings…And then they won’t give them back, because they think they’re theirs!”
For the Lewis family, creating a zoo means much more than just acquiring the animals. Sometimes it means becoming new parents all over again.
“We raised our baby kangaroos in our house,” Lewis says. “One came from Wisconsin and one from Missouri. Ruby and Rolo. They grew up in a baby pen and we bottle fed them. Ten bottles a day! It was just like having kids. Feeding them at all hours of the day and night.”
And then, of course, there’s Jeffrey the Camel. “We have a birthday party for him every year,” Lewis grins. “He’s an international celebrity. We went all over New Era with him, to the dentist, and the car dealer, and we took him to PetSmart in Muskegon. The video went viral. We got responses from as far away as Sweden!”
October at Lewis Farms means Halloween activities, of course—although nothing truly bone chilling.
“We don’t do scary,” Lewis emphasizes. “We don’t have a haunted house, or anything like that. But we have the Pumpkin Patch, and the Great Pumpkin Festival, and the last Saturday in October is the Halloween Extravaganza.”
It’s easy to see why Lewis maintains that he loves what he does. It’s not a job, after all—it’s his life. “When you’re passionate about what you do, it makes everything better, everything worth it. We have a slogan—‘Growing fruit, fun and memories.’ That’s what we strive for here.”
For more information, go to visitlewisfarms.com or visit Lewis Farms on Facebook.