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'You can't plan your operations on what if' | Dutch Hollow Farms near Modesto faces uncertainty with new lease agreement

Farmer John Bos moves forward with the 2020 pumpkin patch, knowing it may be the last at his Riverbank location.

MODESTO, Calif. — Farmer John Bos soberly explained to fans of Dutch Hollow Farms Monday morning that it would likely have to move from its well-known location in Riverbank, just outside of the city of Modesto. 

"The thing is…I can't continue to operate with that cloud over my head," Bos said in a conversation with ABC10. 

"We have something really, really special that we feel like is really great in the community here. At this point, I just kind of felt like I needed to get it off my chest, if you will, because it's stressful."

The reason for the move comes down to one thing: a new lease agreement.

"I've been at this farm for over 14 years, and we've started our business of being a pumpkin patch and agrotourism farm all the way back in 2006," Bos said. "But we were only leasing the property, and development is coming this way."

The property where Dutch Hollow Farms has stood for 14 years sold last July. The new owners have posed a lease agreement to Bos that differs in one exceptional way: a 60-day notice to vacate. 

It's a lease agreement that Bos cannot sign; with only 60-days notice to leave, Bos would stand to lose tens of thousands of dollars in crops.

"It's their property," Bos said. "I totally understand that but…they don’t exactly know the timeline of when they want to start developing this ranch. I'm not here to argue with them. It's just it's an issue when you plant crops. Crops are not grown in 2 months, they're grown over 6 months time."

When faced with this lease agreement, Bos realized it was not possible to continue operating as usual, knowing that the money he's invested in this season's crops could go to waste.  

"I said, look I have pumpkins in the ground right now," Bos said. "I can't sign this lease agreement, and then you give me written notice the next day saying, 'you need to be out, buddy,' because I'm planning on having a pumpkin season."

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So the new owners gave Bos the option to wait until November to agree to the new lease. 

Upon signing the lease agreement, Dutch Hollow Farms would not necessarily be given a 60-day notice to vacate the land right away. That decision could come months, if not years, later. 

However, it's something that could be enforced at any time, even if Bos were in the middle of a crop season.

"As a farmer, you can't plan your operations on 'what if,'" Bos said.

Since fairytale pumpkins, one of Dutch Hollow's primary crops during the season, take 130 days, Bos planted this crop in April and is expecting to harvest in September. Most pumpkins generally take about 100 days from planting to harvest.

As such, Bos describes waiting for a 60-day notice as "nerve-wracking."

"I try to be a positive person. I always try to see the silver lining, but when you feel like a lot of things are against you…" Bos shrugs. "Again, I probably wouldn't have felt this much if it were not for COVID, but we lost a spring season that financially set us back quite a bit."

COVID-19 decimated the spring season. Dutch Hollow Farms typically plants tulips and does small animal petting experiences during the spring months. 

Despite the roaring success of years previous, the pandemic caused agrotourism farms like Bos's to suffer.

For summer, Bos planted sunflowers. With admission, visitors to the farm can pick up to five sunflowers to take home–it's an outdoor activity that is perfect for the era of coronavirus, when people must stay 6 feet apart.

Though Dutch Hollow Farms faces uncertainty with the dual issues of coronavirus and needing to vacate, Bos maintains a friendly disposition to the new owners. 

He points out that they had the funds to purchase the property in the first place, whereas he did not. He also recognizes that the owners can do what they want with their property.

"I don't want to paint them as bad people," Bos said. "I just don’t think that they understand what being a farmer is about."

And being a farmer is about needing more time before being asked to vacate–way more time than just 60 days.

There may not be many property owners who do understand this dilemma. If there are, Bos says they are probably other farmers. 

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Bos also mentions that there were always plans for Dutch Hollow Farms to own their own piece of land. It's just coming a bit sooner than anticipated.

"It's our hope and our intention that we can purchase some farmland so that we can continue our operation, but that comes with its own financial stress of expensive land here in California, and a lot of people to run our operation properly," Bos said.

Until then, preparations are underway for the 2020 pumpkin patch, which will have to be modified with the coronavirus. 

With the pumpkins currently growing underground, Bos is hopeful that this year will be the best patch yet.

So for now, locations, processes and plans for moving are still vague.

"We can't live [with] another missed season," Bos said. "We've missed our spring season which hurt us financially a lot. If we were to miss another one because we were trying to get everything lined up…it's a difficult pill to swallow."

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