Monday, September 21, 2015

Making a Corn Maze is A Lot of Work

2008 corn maze at Abbott Farms in Lysander.
Here is a story I wrote for our monthly ag magazine, Empire Farm & Dairy:

Empire Farm & Dairy

Corn mazes are scary, challenging and mind-blowing.

But most of all, they’re fun. And they’re becoming a greater part of the landscape for fall festivals at parks, farm stands and other agritourism ventures.

Just how, though, do you carve intricate designs into a field of corn?

At Abbott Farms in Lysander, just northwest of Syracuse, a corn maze has been a popular part of visitors’ stops there since 2006, according to farm production manager Michael Blair.

“We try to change it up from year to year,” he said, noting the different designs the maze has taken on in past years. “In 2008, we had our Abbott Farms logo on it. Then another year, we did the Giffords’ logo (the ice cream sold at Abbott Farms). One year we had a circle design with an apple in the middle.”

This year, the maze simply will be a square design with a cancer research ribbon in the middle. Blair said business owner Warren Abbott was planning to have a 5K run at the farm in late September in support of cancer research at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse; thus, the ribbon in the maze was a good choice this year.

So just how do you get those intricate lines and curves carved into a cornfield?

Blair says there are many ways to do it.

n Precision Mazes. This is a Missouri company started by Rob Stouffer, a businessman who saw the growth of corn mazes and developed a business to help. Abbott Farms has used Precision Mazes for the past few years.

Blair said the company has specialized equipment with a GPS on board that will cut out the maze design.

“He goes out in the field with reference points, uses the GPS, and the machine practically drives itself,” Blair said. “It’s a professional, high-quality product.”

Carving a maze out of the corn generally costs $3,500 to $5,500, Stouffer said.

n Grids. Blair said farmers also can go out in their fields in the spring as the corn begins growing and put in grids for the maze design they want. These grids normally require string lines that are set up to mark areas to be cut later. When it’s time, the farmer can use either weed killer to kill the unneeded corn or can mow it.

“This is very elaborate and takes a lot of time,” Blair said.

n Mowing. Blair said farmers also can wait for their corn to grow a bit and then simply go out and mow the areas for the maze.

“Some poor soul on a lawnmower goes out and drives around in circles,” he said.

Stouffer been turning cornfields into corn mazes since 2001. He did three mazes that first year in Missouri and estimates he now has done more than 1,000.

“We’re in 30 different states, Canada and Mexico,” he said. “Many we’re back to do on a yearly basis.”

This is true of Abbott Farms, which Stouffer called “a wonderful place” that owner Warren Abbott puts a lot of time and care into to give visitors a wonderful total experience.

Farmers normally charge admission — from $5 to $7 — to their corn mazes. Blair said the Abbott maze makes money for the farm.

“All of our mazes are custom designed,” Blair said. “They are a part of the American culture, and we have a role in creating them all over the country.”

The biggest maze he has done is 28 acres, a size he called a bit too big. The smallest is 2 acres, and the average size is 6 to 10, he said.

The Abbott Farms corn maze will be open for the business’s fall festival, which is Saturdays and Sunday through Columbus Day weekend and Monday on Columbus Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you are interested in more stories like this, subscribe to Empire Farm & Dairy magazine. Send $50 for one year or $75 for two years to Empire Farm & Dairy, 260 Washington St., Watertown, NY 13601.

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