Bennett Farms owners Lexi (left) and Jim (right) Bennett enjoy their favorite spot on the farm, the swing out front. This article was featured in The Messenger’s Fall 2020 Etowah Living Magazine.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Nestled in the heart of Heflin, Alabama, only an hour’s drive from Gadsden, rests Bennett Farms. Surrounded by an endless array of trees, this peaceful patch of land attracts hundreds of visitors each year as the leaves transform into rich shades of red, orange and gold.
But while this quaint neighboring getaway flourishes each fall, Bennett Farms’ roots were planted decades ago.
Family, faith and farming characterize the Bennett family name – a legacy that originated years ago when Jim Bennett’s great-grandfather purchased Snake Creek Farm. Wisdom passed from father to son for four generations, the past paving the path that Jim walks today.
While Jim jokes that the farm was bred into him, the strong values his family incorporated into their way of life laid the foundation for his success. As a child, Jim was surrounded by cousins he considered brothers and sisters. He learned the importance of a hard day’s work through physical activities like hauling hay and building homes and neighborhoods. All members of the Bennett family are farmers, focusing mostly in cattle operation and timber.
For Jim growing up on the farm was not something unique – it was just a way of life, but a life enriched with purpose. When Jim left the farm to pursue a degree in business management at Jacksonville State University, he knew he wouldn’t be gone for long. Jim currently works for Altec Industries in Birmingham, balancing his career with his passion each day.
Though the blueprints for Jim’s relationship with farming were drawn in his childhood, one moment in his adult life incited the Bennett Farms’ inception.
Bennett Farms began with a dream.
Jim awoke one night with a grand vision and a familiar phrase resounding in his ears: “If you plant it, they will come.” The ‘it’ referred to a pumpkin patch, the setting of Jim’s dream where he imagined walking with his daughter, picking out pumpkins and cherishing their time with one another. Though his family scheduled a trip to a pumpkin patch in the upcoming weeks, following Jim’s dream on September 29, 2009, a new idea took root in his mind: create one of their own.
Anxious to manifest his life-changing dream into reality, Jim partnered with his wife, Lexi, and purchased a portion of his family’s land to create the pumpkin patch known as Bennett Farms. While the couple jumped into work straightaway, transforming the two barns on the property and adding power and water, Jim consulted a man whose trusted advice shaped his viewpoint of the world from a young age – his grandfather, Hugh Bennett.
Hugh represents the heart of the Bennett Family. From truck rides that led to building fences together, to thoughtful conversations about agriculture and life, Hugh’s relationship with Jim laid the foundation for his farm.
“He taught me a lot,” said Jim. “Not only about farming, but about life, and being good to people. He was always a strong figure that I looked up to and respected. He was a good man.”
Jim and Hugh share several ideals that they hold sacred. They both understand the importance of maintaining a neat environment, and they never compromise the aesthetic of a place for the functionality. Hugh and Jim believe in “making things look good” while keeping things clean, they always have a project brewing and they both appreciate the many hands working together to ensure the farm operates smoothly.
When Jim met with his grandfather to discuss his ideas for Bennett Farms, Hugh suggested a few of his own.
“He was excited about the farm,” said Jim. “He was sick during that time, but he was able to give me some ideas that I incorporated into Bennett Farms – quite a few as far as the way we cook. We cook on a wood burning stove and we cook in cast iron wash pots, but we do a lot of things the way people used to do them. That was one of the things he wanted, to make sure I showcased teaching kids how people used to do things.”
Although Hugh passed away before Bennett Farms officially opened, his memory lingers throughout the land. Hugh’s influence remains evident on Bennett Farms, from his emphasis on teaching children forgotten skills to his loving character that nurtured an unbreakable familial bond. Jim holds the torch Hugh passed down, like his father before him, and continues to honor Hugh’s life as Bennett Farms shines brightly year after year.
Before Bennett Farms debuted in 2010, the Bennetts never explored any type of agritourism. As Jim and Lexi prepared for their first grand opening, the couple were uncertain of how the public would react.
The response was even greater than they imagined.
“You put all the work in and you’ve got all this anticipation of the opening day, but I didn’t know what to expect,” said Jim. “I told Lexi, if we have 10 people come and enjoy it, I’ll be happy. [On opening day] the parking lot was full. It was just a really cool feeling. Everybody came and enjoyed themselves. I remember when we first opened, there were young kids who came in who were toddlers. Now, they’ve come back every year, and it’s really neat to be able to watch them as they grow. You may only see them once a year, but they come back each year. Now, those toddlers are 11-12 years old. It’s a really awesome thing.”
Bennett Farms is more than just a pumpkin patch. The farm features numerous activities for children and adults alike, creating a family-friendly atmosphere that welcomes individuals of all ages. With a hay ride, corn cribs, duck race, pipe slides, hay maze, wagon train and saddle swing, visitors will discover exciting adventures around each corner. Rabbits, chickens and goats welcome guests to the petting farm, which overlooks acres of beautiful mums, zinnias and golden sunflowers. Guests can stroll through the flower gardens and select blooms of their choice, creating their own personalized bouquets.
Bennett Farms also houses a country store filled with handmade items from local vendors. Guests can browse through a variety of soaps, pottery, clothing and delectable treats as souvenirs from their trip to the farm.
If visitors find their stomachs rumbling from such an eventful day, they can treat themselves to a number of mouth-watering delights on the farm’s menu. Shaded picnic tables provide the perfect escape to enjoy an assortment of specialties, from tea cakes cooked on a wood burning stove and irresistible apple pies, to traditional brisket, BBQ and ribs.
“I wish I could bottle up the smell from October,” said Jim. “It smells so good with those wood burning stoves going, with the smoke rolling out of our smoke houses and just the sound of the kids laughing and having fun. There’s something about that sound and smell of fall down on the farm that make it worthwhile.”
Since its initial opening to the public, Jim and Lexi have added new activities each year. The dynamic pair strives to create a natural, clean and safe environment where families feel comfortable visiting time and time again. Each new farm-based idea centers around their mission to educate the public about farming in a fun, engaging manner. In addition to the general public, Bennett Farms also welcomes school groups on a regular basis.
“It’s very important to me to especially have these school kids from field trips that come in,” said Jim. “[Many of these kids] do not get to experience farm life and really don’t understand where their food comes from. We explain that to them and show them how things are done on the farm. It gives them an appreciation. We’re really trying to create an agricultural learning experience for these kids where they can come in and leave with a better understanding of how things are done, and how things are grown on the farm.”
As the farm grows, so does the outpouring of support the Bennetts receive from their community. Encouragement flows in from Heflin and beyond, beckoning residents from throughout Alabama and surrounding states to discover the magic behind Bennett Farms. From field trips that come from Atlanta, Birmingham, Fort Payne and Auburn to all the visitors who travel from Etowah County, Bennett Farms proves that the destination is worth the journey.
“When people come and they show their gratitude and appreciation of the hard work that goes into us running and operating the farm, that makes me really happy,” said Jim. “We take a lot of pride in what we do and how we do it. Most all of our visitors recognize that, and they want to make sure that it’s known that they do appreciate it. All those comments are what drive me to keep doing it.”
On any given day, visitors might find Lexi in the country store or Jim transporting pumpkins from the fields to eager guests. Their unified efforts make Bennett Farms the paramount success it is, representing the Bennett motto that remains “all about family.” Their children are involved in the farm as well, with their daughter Avery creating impressive videos for social media and their son Ty helping complete tasks. On nights when their work is complete, the Bennetts gather around their dinner table and discuss their experiences throughout the day and the people who came to visit the farm.
Jim confessed he could not do what he does without Lexi, who he describes as the brains of the business, and his children.
“I love this life,” said Jim. “I love being on the farm. There’s something to be said about a good hard day’s work. When you come in and you’ve got a to-do list each morning and you make those check marks on that list, it’s gratifying to see what you’ve accomplished every day. We actually built our home down here, so my kids are getting to enjoy it. That’s one of the things I really like when we’re doing these projects and working on the farm. It’s family time for us too, where our kids are getting the same experience. I’m thankful God has put us in a place where we can be outside together and work and grow and make all these memories.”
As Jim and Lexi create fond memories with their children, they develop a place for other families to do the same. From year to year, Bennett Farms welcomes visitors to embrace the life that characterizes the Bennett legacy, creating an unforgettable haven where fun and joy abound.
“I know that people can go anywhere and buy a pumpkin,” said Bennett. “We are a pumpkin patch and we sell pumpkins, but that’s just a side note. I really want to create a place where people can come and make memories that last a lifetime. I understand that you can buy a pumpkin anywhere, but it’s about the memories you can create at Bennett Farms. There are places I went as a kid that I’ll never forget because it was so much fun. That’s what we’re in the business of creating – memories.”