116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ATKINS — Established in 1994 and recreated in the aftermath of a 2004 tornado and the 2020 derecho, Bloomsbury Farm gives city slickers — including this urban cowgirl — an action-packed taste of rural recreation about 10 minutes west of Cedar Rapids and 40 minutes north of Iowa City.
But instead of climbing up the ladder in the hay barn to walk the rafters and jump into the bales like I did at my grandpa’s farm, visitors to this sprawling agri-oasis near Atkins can climb a tower and slide down a chute. Make that two chutes this year.
The lines have been so long for a ride down the original solo Super Slide that another one was added beside it this summer. The two-pronged attraction has been renamed the Derecho Super Slide, in a nod to the Aug. 10, 2020, storm that blew through the region, damaging buildings, bins and crops on the farm.
“We are optimists here at Bloomsbury Farm,” said Samantha Petersen, who has taken over the marketing aspects from her mother. “So every time we get hit with a storm, we always try to take the opportunity to add things and change things that maybe we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
On a mid-August tour of the grounds, construction was underway in a few places, but you’d never know an inland hurricane with wind speeds up to 140 mph had shaken the site.
“The Bloomsbury side got hit pretty hard by the derecho, as did our farm side,” Samantha said. “The Super Slide was all twisted up. We were able to save it, but it was leaning way to the left.”
Where: 3260 69th St. Atkins; 10 minutes west of Cedar Rapids and 40 minutes north of Iowa City
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday; Sunflower Festival, Sept. 9 to 30, Autumn Days, Oct. 1 to 31; also open for field trips, birthday parties, group outings, weddings and receptions; closed over the winter months
Admission: $19.95 plus tax at the gate for ages 3 and up, Sept. 9 to Oct. 31; covers most attractions; additional cost at the gate for Geode Smashing, Gemstone Mining, Apple Blasters; Sunflower Festival’s Buckets of Blooms, $30 online, $35 at the gate, for you-pick sunflowers
Animal Town lost a chicken and a duck to the storm, but the farmyard has been repaired and expanded, with new fencing installed for the resident goats, llama, alpaca and other critters.
“The animals have a lot more space to roam,” Samantha said. The goats even have their own massive multilevel climbing/walking course.
Long before the derecho, however, a tornado swept through the property in 2004. Gazette reports said the storm caused about $500,000 in damages and destroyed mom Karen Petersen’s Bloomsbury Greenhouse and Florist business.
“That’s what really catapulted us forward into the agritourism,” said Karen, 59. “We had a greenhouse and landscape floral business, and it took that sort of business away. We started planting a few more pumpkins and had people calling for a few more events, and schools coming out — and we grew from there.
“We just have such wonderful help on the farm, too, that’s gotten us to where we’re at.”
It’s still an active crop farm, as well. Karen’s husband, Dave Petersen, 63, is the fifth generation to work the land, and farms 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans. The couple lives in the farmhouse just steps from the Bloomsbury hustle and bustle.
Daughters Samantha, 31, and Jessica Petersen, 29, were involved in the operation growing up, weeding and picking pumpkins, cleaning, and working concessions.
“Then they went away to college,” Karen said. “We really wanted them to live off the farm and work off the farm a few years, and make sure they wanted to come back.”
They did, and Jessica brought back lots of good ideas from her stints at an organic vegetable farm on Cape Cod and a winery in Connecticut, Karen noted. The girls don’t live on the farm, but each one is nearby, Samantha said.
She and her sister also get the credit for naming the family operation. While “Bloomsbury” might seem a natural name for a floral business, it’s actually a nod to the sisters’ favorite childhood movie, “Peter Pan.” “Bloomsbury” is the area in which the Darling family lived, Samantha noted.
“My parents were looking for a unique name and ‘Bloomsbury’ is what stuck,” she said.
More change is in the works. Coming out of the pandemic, the farm complex has been moving toward a weekend festival model. The 2021 season began with an Easter Bunny Bash, then moved through spring and summer festivals, and now into fall. New this year, the farm plans to offer some Christmas products and perhaps Santa visits, if the COVID-19 situation allows, Karen said.
In between public festivals, the site is open for private experiences like field trips, birthday parties, corporate events, church groups, weddings, receptions and Scout outings.
The Derecho Super Slide is slated to be done in time for the Sunflower Festival running Sept. 9 to 30, 2021, followed by the Harvest Festival from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31. Hours for both festivals are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Bloomsbury’s blooming patches loved the recent rains. Six acres planted with 25 varieties of sunflowers are on the grow, and will be in full bloom in September. That plot is planned and tended by Jessica, who also will till some paths so guests can walk through the field, pick a bucket of flowers and pose for photos.
“It’s really beautiful,” Samantha said. “(Jessica) works very hard at picking really unique varieties.”
Zinnias and cosmos also have been blooming across 2.5 acres, showcased during the past Blooms & Butterflies festival. Moving into fall, another 18 acres of pumpkins will be ripe for the picking during the Harvest Festival, which also features activities like pumpkin bowling and a pumpkin blaster show. Visitors can walk through the pumpkin patch and pick their own fruit off the vine, or choose one of the pumpkins at the farm’s market.
“Pick your own (pumpkins) is kind of a unique tradition and fun experience,” Samantha said.
Another big draw in the fall is the 10-acre corn maze, which this year zigzags through a design honoring Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cedar Rapids & East Central Iowa, a mentoring program in which Samantha participates as a Big Sister. Utah’s MAiZE team maps out the design, then comes in and “cuts” the maze with a backpack spayer when the plants are about 4 inches to 5 inches tall, Samantha said.
Then as Halloween creeps near, part of the farm turns into Scream Acres, with a haunted maze and three indoor haunts: 3D Sinister Silo, Cell Block Z populated by zombies, and The Slaughterhouse. Less scary trips are offered for little ghosts and goblins.
Speaking of little ones, Baby Animals Days in the spring lets visitors see and interact with the newest members of the farm family.
Whenever guests arrive, Bloomsbury Farm has more than 20 attractions for kids and adults — from barrel train rides and a mini zip line for kids to a beer garden, wine room, the corn maze, a market and Halloween haunted happenings that draw in the older crowds.
Lots of activities cross over to all ages, including hayrack rides, tractor tire obstacle- and climbing courses, gemstone mining, a giant jumping pillow, games of skill, pig races and huge chairs that let the biggest visitors feel like a kid again.
Themed areas include Western Town, offering glimpses into our pioneering past, and Lil’ Farmerville, scaled for the pint-size set.
When stomachs begin rumbling, food, snacks and drinks are available in various stands. If you want to take home a taste of the farm or other agri-gifts, a large Farm & Gift Market features food, snacks, canned goods, T-shirts, beeswax candles, art, flowers and produce and honey straight from the farm and local vendors.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, all the hard work has been worth it, Karen said as she looked out over the site that soon will open its gates for fall festivals.
“What’s really amazing is the kids that came out here for field trips are now bringing their kids back — and I feel old,” Karen said with a laugh. “It’s fun when the farm’s alive. That’s why we’ve gone into a little bit more festivals in the spring and summer, than just building on the fall.
“It’s just fun to see the farm alive. We just really love the business, and are just thrilled the girls are back. Their ideas are awesome.”
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