Fall is an excellent time to visit farms throughout Central Jersey.

Whether you’re looking to pick your own apples, for a hayride to the pumpkin patch, or to take a stroll through the corn maze, there are many family friendly activities that can be experienced on farms that welcome visitors each harvest season. These “agritourism” activities are increasingly popular on New Jersey farms and are a great way to support local agriculture.

One of the best ways to learn about where your food comes from is to visit a farm and harvest it yourself. Many apple orchards allow customers to come to the farm when the apples are ripe to harvest the fruit themselves. Different varieties of apples will ripen at different times of the season, so the farmer will let you know which ones are ready and which ones you might want to come back to pick another time. Not only will you be able to pick the freshest apples right on the farm, but you may also be able to try varieties that are not usually available at the grocery store.

Mid-September through October is peak apple picking time in New Jersey, with varieties such as Cortland, Golden Delicious, Fuji and many others ripening during this period. While some varieties will be sweet, crisp and excellent for fresh eating, other varieties of apples are better for baking. The farmers can let you know which ones are best for making a perfect apple pie!

Hayrides are another classic fall farm experience that people of all ages can enjoy, especially when the destination is a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. One of the hardest things about pumpkin picking is choosing your favorite one (although, there are no rules that say you have to get just one!).

When selecting a pumpkin, make sure there are no soft spots or other visible signs of rot. Inspect all sides of the pumpkin, including the bottom and the stem. When you pick up a pumpkin, you should not pick it up by the stem because it can easily break under its own weight. Instead, use both hands and carry the pumpkin from the bottom. In addition to traditional orange jack-o-lantern style pumpkins, local farms will offer many unique and heirloom varieties as well. White pumpkins, mini-pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes can help to create original, unique fall decorations on your porch or in your window. Just like apples, if you are looking for pumpkins to make pies, there are certain varieties that will taste better than others. Ask your local farmer what they would recommend, and you will not be disappointed.

Also see:Where to pick your own apples this fall in New Jersey

More Gardener State:Tips for harvesting and storing summer vegetables

Corn mazes are a great way to have fun and get some exercise while visiting local farms. Farmers have also been getting very creative with their corn mazes over the last few years, some creating elaborate designs as they use their tractors to cut the maze into the corn patch. You may not be able to see the full design of the maze from the ground, but aerial photographs show the level of detail that goes into each one. From the ground, you will be able to walk, wander, and meander through green walls made of thousands of living corn plants spreading over several acres of land.

To help you find an agritourism farm that offers these great activities near you, the state Department of Agriculture provides the searchable Find Jersey Fresh directory:

To use the directory, first enter your zip code, then select which farm agritourism activities you are looking for. Click “search” and the map will display all the Jersey Fresh farms in your area that have your selected activities available, along with contact information for the farm. The directory also allows you to search for farm stands, farmers markets, wineries, breweries and many other agricultural products throughout the state.

If you find yourself looking for something spookier, the Teen Council of the Middlesex County 4-H Youth Development Program invites you to their Haunted House and Haunted Hayride fundraiser – if you dare!

Join the 4-H teens every Friday and Saturday evening in October, starting Oct. 7 from 7to 10:30 p.m. as they scare up some fun for a good cause at the 4-H Center, located at 645 Cranbury Road in East Brunswick. Admission is $6 for each activity or $10 for both the Haunted House and Hayride.

The proceeds will support 4-H’s next big event, Project GIFT, in December. For this event, 4-H uses its Halloween funds to purchase an assortment of toys and other presents, then invites 200 limited-resource families to visit the 4-H Center and select toys and gifts for their children at no cost.

William Errickson is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County.

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