Gary’s Berries scares up Fall Festival activities

Siting Pretty Gary Star, owner of Garry’s Berries, shows off one of his many props. The annual Fall Festival includes a corn maze, pumpkin patch, haunted house and several other activities.

Kate Fechter

If you go to Gary’s Berries, located east of Topeka eight miles off 24 Highway, you may end up with a new fall tradition.  Gary’s Berries has an annual Fall Festival with many activities, and they are continuing to expand.

Gary’s Berries began in 1993 when owner Gary Starr and his family bought the site in 1993. They turned it into a fruit farm and used it as a project where home-schooled children raised fruit like strawberries and raspberries. This lasted until 2003, when it was no longer profitable.

The Fall Festival began in 2000, with Starr adding a corn maze and a pumpkin patch.

“We had a green army tent and four people helping us, and that was it,” said Starr. “It has expanded since then, and we have evolved to just the Fall Festival.”

Until it flooded in 2005, the festival was located on a creek bed on the site. In 2006, it reopened at its current site, located on higher ground.

Gary’s Berries has many things to attract visitors. There is a corn maze, pumpkin patch, giant slide, jumping pillow, goats, hay rack rides, pig races, a haunted house and the newest edition: the corn ball.

“We added the corn ball this year,” said Starr. “It’s a 42-inch volleyball that you hit over the hay bales.”

The haunted house was added last year, and Starr says they are working on adding a petting zoo and a “kiddie corner” with smaller slides for younger children.

“The pig races are popular,” said Starr. “There are some hillbillies we are starting to develop to act out a scene on the hayrack ride. We are starting to move more into that kind of environment.”

Mitch Hawkins works the pig races and the haunted house. He and his co-worker Mike Myrick really enjoy the spectacle of the pig races.

“Pig racing is better than NASCAR,” said Hawkins. “We run the pigs every hour on the hour. The only exception is on Saturday at 5 o’clock. The pig jokes are the best part of the pig races.”

The festival has vendors that sell food for hungry visitors. Selection includes: hamburgers, hotdogs, bratwurst, turkey legs, French fries, kettle corn, funnel cakes and a unique combination that includes chips, chili and cheese, called Krazy Taters.

People from all over the area come out to the festivities; about 20,000 a year estimated Starr.

“During the day, we see a lot of parents with small children who come out to the pumpkin patch, play on the swing set, the slipper slide, things like that,” said Starr. “At night, we see older kids going to the haunted house. We do still see a lot of families at night. They enjoy doing the corn maze at night and other night adventures.”

Guests can do all the activities at the festival but the haunted house for $9.75. The haunted house is $19.75. Food and pumpkins are also separate. Pumpkins run from $2 for a pie pumpkin to $16 for large ones.

“It’s always a good time,” said Jamie Kirkham, mother, animal nutritionist and guest at the festival. “We bring the kids to play and get good photos with them.”

Gary’s Berries is an expanding operation and an ever expanding staff.

“It’s like a big family operation,” said Starr. “We have about 70 people helping us. Most will come back every year. Families will work here and we will put their kids to work in the corn maze or pumpkin patch. We’ve been around long enough that now some of those kids are employees with us as well.”

Although the family lives on site, they have full-time jobs and don’t farm or grow berries anymore. Starr works full time for Edward Jones as a financial advisor. Prior to that, Starr worked for 20 years as a computer systems engineer. Both he and his wife, Julie, are WU graduates.  They actually met as Washburn students. She has a bachelor of science in nursing and works as a practicing registered nurse, and Starr has a bachelor of art in political science and a bachelor of science in computer science with a minor in mathematics.

Starr’s son Michael graduated from Washburn this year. His wife and he also have a daughter, Emily, who is a student at the University of Kansas, and another son, Aaron, who plays baseball at Cloud County Community College.

“We don’t do berries at all anymore and all have jobs off the farm,” said Starr.

Starr said he gets his enthusiasm for the festival from the children who visit and also from the creative aspect.

“Watching the little kids on the bouncing pillow and watching the kids feed the goats is probably the most fun,” said Starr. “That creates my enthusiasm. That and the joy I get out of thinking and doing different projects, coming up with different ideas. The day to day operations is not my forte. Luckily, my family still works here.”

Gary’s Berries is open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. They will close for the season Monday, Nov. 1.

Directions and other information is available on the Gary’s Berries website,