MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - This Labor Day, the staff at Tate Farms are far from resting. There's a lot to do following a fire one week ago.
"There's not a lot of Labor Days off for farmers, that's number one," said Stewart McGill, Managing Partner of Tate Farms. "But especially when the place burned down a week ago, there's not a lot of time off."
Staff are busy readying the farm for the public as we speed toward its opening day, September 25.
Meanwhile, there's a lot of other labor happening at the site of the fire.
A new building is already under construction there. It will be known as the play barn, and McGill said it will be impressive.
"It will be the largest play structure in Madison County of its kind," he said. "There won't be anything that rivals it."
McGill said it will have the "wow" factor.
"[There will be] a lot of sensory items inside. A lot of sound items. Mechanical walls," he listed, "a lot of cranks and musical walls and that type of thing. Different tones to attract the little guys, as well as the new 40-foot tube slides that will be even better than the ones we used to have. A lot less bumpy," he noted.
McGill said this will be a great addition to the farm, happening right on the site of the former animal barn that was lost.
"That excitement is what we want with those kids," he said. "Just wait until you see what we're fixing to build."
He wants all of this to be done before opening day, and feels confident they can get there. McGill said the architect, who is a part of the family, worked quickly and construction began last week. The crew is working fast.
The fire isn't getting them down at Tate Farms.
"All this is going to do is make us better. We honestly feel that," McGill said. "My saying from the night that it happened is 'this will be our finest hour.' And I truly believe that."
Through it all, McGill said the folks at Tate Farms will open on time. He said their goal is to be better than ever.
"We know people are coming in three weeks. We know on September 25 when we open that there will be 20 school buses showing up in our parking lot and this is those kids' one day to be here. We've got to be perfect," he said. "We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that day is as good a day as they will ever have here."
And in case you were wondering-- the Tate Farms pumpkins are looking good.
McGill said, "They're fantastic. The pumpkin crop is one of the best pumpkin crops we have ever had. We have had a lot of rain. I am so excited about it. We've got a lot of pumpkins out there. I think we have some 200, 250-pound pumpkins and a lot of jack-o-lanterns that are going to be 40, 50 pounds."
Despite that joy, the farm family received a surprise last week when a neighbor found one of the pigs they thought had perished in the blaze. Today the farm announced that pig, Oreo, passed away.
She had been unable to recover from what she went through during the fire. Still, McGill said she received wonderful care and a lot of love.
"Chase Animal Hospital-- they did everything they could to help us keep that pig," he said. "She wasn't able to make it. But what a courageous little rascal she was."