Pick Up Produce, Pumpkins, and Apple Cider Donuts at These Farms in Las Vegas
Yes, we have farms in the middle of the desert, and they're full of cute animals, too.
Outsiders often view Las Vegas as a dry wasteland of dust and desert that's only interrupted by the bright lights of big resorts; jaw-dropping attractions, such as the Sphere; and a growing wave of homes and businesses spreading out from the Strip and Downtown at an aggressively astonishing pace.
But growth isn't always driven by mortgage rates and casino rewards club memberships. Las Vegas translates to "the meadows" in Spanish, inspired by the valley's groundwater supply, nutrient-rich soil, and grassy environments, which offered resources to Native Americans for thousands of years and pioneers on the Old Spanish Trail in the early 18th Century. Long before the business of sin came along, the Las Vegas economy was driven by the local harvest.
Yes, things are different today. We've got a climate problem with record-high temperatures and a drought that's led to dwindling waters in Lake Mead. That doesn't mean we can't plant a few seeds and grow a few trees. Agriculture played a pivotal role in the development of Southern Nevada, and farms in and around Las Vegas are enjoying the fall harvest season with big events and the best weather of the year. So put down your phone, pick out your pumpkins, and spend some quality time in the sun. Three of our favorite farms are proving that October is prime time for fun, food, and much more in the great outdoors.
When most Las Vegans think of "farm," Gilcrease Orchard is the first thing that comes to mind. The 60-acre site opens to the public for strawberry season in the spring, with business picking up for apricots in May and peaches over the summer. However, fall is by far the busiest time of year, drawing large crowds to roam the rows of farmland and pick their own apples, pumpkins, and other produce, often bringing their own wheelbarrows from home. It gets so busy that a $5 ticket system is in place during weekends in October. Book in advance online, or you might get turned away.
The Gilcrease family took ownership of the land about a hundred years ago, made money growing alfalfa, and transformed the farm into an orchard during the 1970s. It's now a permanent fixture in the once-remote Northwest Valley that saw the Centennial Hills community develop around it. At one point, the farm was a hundred acres, but part of it was sold off to residential development. Brothers Ted and Bill were the driving force behind the business and created a nonprofit guild to preserve, protect, and operate the land for generations to come. In recent years, the orchard has increasingly practiced two kinds of sustainability: environmental (to improve the organic matter of the soil and efficiency of the water system) and financial.
"As the city has grown, we've just become more and more popular, and we try to have more variety," Gilcrease Orchard Foundation Director Mark Ruben said. "When I first got here, they had apricots and zucchini. I said, 'I don't think I'd come out for two things (as a customer), but I'd come out for five or six.' So now we have about 32 different things."
Throughout the year, Gilcrease Orchard grows a varied crop, including tomatoes, pomegranates, beets, kale, arugula, peppers, and pluots (a hybrid between a plum and apricot). Guests are also welcome to use shears to pick their own sunflowers. Some items, like melons, onions, and garlic (including a growing demand for black garlic), are mass-harvested and made available up front at the retail counters. Roam the grounds, and you'll also see a chicken coop, desert tortoise habitat, honey-generating bee exhibit (when the weather isn't too hot), corn maze, straw playground, and tractor-led trailer rides to keep visitors of all ages busy.
An industrial apple press was built on site, allowing the orchard to produce its own apple cider, which is sold by the pint or quart. No visit is complete without taking home a box of wildly popular apple cider donuts, which are available plain, topped with cinnamon sugar, or smothered in a cinnamon cream cheese frosting.
After Thanksgiving, the orchard shifts into winter holiday mode, selling forest-grown Christmas trees with themed wagon rides and other activities.
The Las Vegas Farm is just across the street from Gilcrease Orchard and sometimes gets overlooked by those laser-focused on apple cider donuts. Still, it's a wonderfully charming destination that's equally deserving of your time and attention.
Sharon Linsenbardt and husband Glenn have run The Farm for more than 50 years, providing a sanctuary to a Noah's Ark of animals, from cows, horses, alpacas, and llamas to goats, pigs, and roaming peacocks. A giant bunny, donated by the Venetian from a "Year of the Rabbit" Lunar New Year exhibit, is the centerpiece of a climate-controlled rabbit habitat. The Farm follows a core mission to look after neglected, abandoned, or abused animals in need of rehabilitation and a safe, loving environment.
"We bring them back up to health so they can be in a sanctuary for the rest of their lives," Linsenbardt said. "We don't adopt out, we don't sell 'em, we don't do anything else other than to allow them to live out their life in safety."
For a small donation of $10, visitors can explore the sanctuary, which operates under the nonprofit Barn Buddies Rescue banner, and feed hay to some of the animals. There's no breeding. Every animal is spayed and neutered, including dozens of cats that roam free on the property. It's important to have ample roaming space, making every inch of land and dollar raised extremely important. The Farm is reaching limits on space and looking for grants, donations, volunteers, and other forms of community involvement.
"You can't just put 'em in a corral," Linsenbardt said about her animals, proudly noting The Farm has never received a demerit during USDA inspections. "You've got to give them what they need to sustain life and to sustain it as safely and as comfortably as we can provide."
While the current Fall Harvest Festival draws the largest crowds, the farmer's market near the front entrance is open every weekend throughout the year. Everything is locally or regionally sourced, whether it's The Farm's own honey, eggs from chickens on site, or a variety of jams and butters from Southern Utah. Make sure to take home a fresh-baked cookie or pie. Some of the fruit, including apricots, peaches, and figs, are grown on the property, with additional produce supplied by fellow local farmers who share the Linsenbardts' preference for chemical-free, all-natural crops.
A food stand operates during the festival, selling hot dogs, chili, roasted squash bowls, pumpkin pie slices, and other quick bites. No matter when you visit, the farm-friendly rustic decor brings added character and warmth to the environment, with plenty of room to sit in shaded areas.
The Farm was originally a 20-acre chicken ranch and is now down to eight acres, although Linsenbardt is looking to develop some newer land next door. She actively welcomes school children for educational events and has a lovely event space that's perfect for weddings with a reception area, bride and groom's quarters, and a gorgeous wooden chapel from Bonnie Springs that was brought over piece by piece and fully renovated with stained-glass windows illustrating some of the animals on the property. Every dollar raised from ceremonies is donated back into the care of animals who call The Farm home.
The Moapa Valley Corn Maze is open from just late September through the end of October, but it's a project months in the making. The team behind the attraction leases 40 acres from a year-round farm in May and goes through a process of disking, tilling, and fertilizing the soil to plant sweet corn, melons, and pumpkins for the fall season.
"I grow all my pumpkins," said the farmer who runs the Moapa Valley Corn Maze, roughly 50 miles north of Las Vegas. "Anything you buy here is grown here."
The corn is used to feed cows and create the framework for three corn mazes. The main, more difficult one is 10 acres, while two others are 2.5 acres, including a "haunted" version that operates after dark. The latter is the most time-consuming to set up, featuring sets, animatronics, and costumed performers. Don't panic if you see somebody running around with a chainsaw. It's just part of the fun.
The Halloween theme continues with 20-minute Zombie Paintball sessions. Get on board one of two buses and fire mounted paintball guns at zombies roaming the grounds. You don't have to worry about wearing protection of your own. "The zombies don't shoot back," the farmer notes.
You'll find some additional artillery with the Corn Cannon, powered by compressed air tanks to take aim and fire a corn husk at selected targets. Traditional hay rides are a far less aggressive experience, with a tractor driving large trailers loaded with passengers and hay around the perimeter of the farm. Haunted trips after dark include fun skits with a grave digger and scary clowns.
The daytime activities are more family-focused with rides and kids activities, including a zip-line, playground, and petting zoo with a donkey, cow, goats, chickens, and pigs. Everyone is invited to pick pumpkins straight off the vine at the pumpkin patch (with wheelbarrows provided if needed). None of the snacks are priced higher than $10, so grab a hot dog or burger and hang out by a fire pit around dusk, the best time to soak in the beauty of the environment.
This is the last year you can check out the Moapa Valley Corn Maze in its current location. Next year, the attraction moves about 15 minutes away to a 119-acre site in Logandale, promising to be bigger than ever in 2024.