| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
MANATEE COUNTY — This weekend, head east on State Road 64 until the stores with candy corn and plastic Halloween costumes disappear. Keep going when the road narrows to two lanes and wooden barns dot large open farm land.
Go beyond the DeSoto Speedway with the revving stock car engines until the road breaks off to Waterbury. There you’ll find the Hunsader family farm and nearly three decades of fall tradition — a fall tradition that appears unspoiled despite a global pandemic and concerns that the beloved Manatee County farm is facing foreclosure.
The 29th Annual Pumpkin Festival — seen by many locals as the true beginning of fall — will press ahead on Saturday and Sunday and continue every weekend through Oct. 25, according to the farm’s website. The farm’s U-pick fields also appear to be open until June.
Aside from mask requirements inside buildings, on the hayride, the train ride, swampy buggy ride and voluntarily assuming all the risks related to exposure to COVID-19, the festival appears to be just as it has been in years past.
Phone calls to Hunsader Farmers calls from reporters Thursday afternoon and Friday morning were not returned.
On Friday afternoon, Hunsader Farms posted on its Facebook, thanking people for their concern about the news of its foreclosure, but stated that the issue had been resolved.
“We are saddened that no news outlets had tried contacting us on this private matter to verify it as true or false, and to share it anyway,” the farm said on Facebook. “We are not under foreclosure. Our Pumpkins Festival is absolutely still going on, and will continue to go on for years to come.”
Nevertheless, according to Manatee County court records, the case is still active. Hunsader Farms was issued a court summons on Oct. 5, the records show.
According to a lawsuit filed Sept. 2, Hunsader Farms of Bradenton is facing a $7.23 million foreclosure lawsuit from its lender, Synovus Bank. Six family members are also named as defendants.
The lawsuit refers to two separate mortgage notes — amounting to over $6 million. Synovus alleges in court documents that Hunsader Farms defaulted under the terms of both loans, and notified the company of the default on July 16 in writing, demanding full payment.
The lender says it hasn’t received any form of payment since. Neither the Hunsader family nor a lawyer representing Synovus returned a request for comment on Thursday.
The Hunsader family has run a profitable farm in Manatee County since 1967, growing tomatoes and butternut squash, and, beginning in the early 1990s, hosting an annual fall festival that draws thousands.
Yet the farm grew even more valuable when it became the target of land-hungry developers during the real estate boom over a decade ago.
According to a lawsuit filed in 2010, as land prices rose, one three-member branch of the Hunsader family bought up 20 acres next to the farm and secretly negotiated a $40 million sale of the farm and surrounding land to developers.
The side deal led to a rift in one of Manatee County’s most prominent farming families, with the rest of the family suing the group of the three in 2010, claiming they made a secret land deal and perpetuated other financial wrongdoing.
In 2010 lawsuit, they said those decisions lost money for Bridge Creek, the family’s investment company, and increased its debt.
Four years later, the family took out a $6.2 mortgage with Synovus. The bank also issued the farm a revolving line of credit worth $400,000 at the same time when the first one was issued. Those mortgage notes are the subject of this year’s foreclosure lawsuit.
According to the farm’s website, each day of the Pumpkin Festival this year includes a craft show, live music, live shows, pumpkins, chainsaw sculptor, corn maze $2, scarecrow displays, homemade ice cream, farm roasted sweet corn, face painting, fresh produce, frog jumping championship, zip line, food and much more.
The festival also features a number of live entertainment, including a monster truck show featuring Gunslinger — a truck owned and driven by Florida-based Scott Hartsock; a BMX Stunt Show; Walker Brother’s Circus; and a variety of musical guests.
Admission is $10, children 10 and under are free. Parking is $5. Visit hunsaderfarms.com/pumpkin-festival.