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Holiday harvest: Grower cultivates 'chills and thrills'

Todd Fitchette wfp-todd-fitchette-ron-macedo-pumpkins-16.jpg
Pumpkins and a corn maze give way to an ice rink and a Zamboni machine during the fall and winter months at Ron Macedo R.A.M. Farms in Turlock, Calif.
About a dozen years ago, Tom Macedo started a U-pick pumpkin patch that now includes a Halloween fright house, corn maze and ice rink.

When asked how he got into the ice rink business in a central California farming region where snow is as rare as political common sense, Ron Macedo likes to joke about the similarities between ice skating and dairying.

"I joke with everybody that us Portuguese are natural skaters, and they say 'oh, yeah, there's a lot of ice in the Azores'," Macedo says with a laugh. "I tell them it's because of all the dairies around here. If you put on milk boots and walk through the wet manure, it's all the same motion.

"People get a chuckle out of it when I explain it that way," he continued.

Macedo farms a variety of crops on the edge of Turlock, Calif. About a dozen years ago he started a U-pick pumpkin patch that transitioned to a seasonal site that now includes a Halloween fright house and corn maze. Along the way Macedo rehabilitated farm ground on the edge of town, a few blocks from Turlock High School. The project led to R.A.M. Farms, a family fun venue that is open to the public about 100 days out of the year.

The pumpkin patch and its associated activities were built to give children from town and the nearby communities something fun to do that was tied to agriculture, he said. After seeing an ice rink in Sacramento, Macedo thought to himself "that doesn't look very difficult," and began a quest for answers into how it would work.

"There's nothing like that here, so I studied it for a couple of years," he said. "There's a number of companies that will help you with this, so I ended up with a company out of Livermore that I bought the equipment from. They helped me set this up."

Complete with a 24/7 refrigeration unit that chills the skating rink, a Zamboni machine, and pairs of rental skates, Macedo was in business. The facility opens the weekend before Thanksgiving and runs through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

"Anybody can do what I do, but you've really got to love dealing with people," he said of the ice rink and pumpkin patch."

He continued: "People ask me where I get my energy. I tell them that I steal a little bit of that little kid's energy. I take a little bit of energy from his sister and his mom and dad; that's how I do it," he continued.

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