Corn mazes start with late spring plantings

Published 8:43 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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As summer approaches, some Virginia farmers will be sowing the seeds of this year’s corn maze craze — offering families plenty to look forward to this fall.

Traversing a corn maze’s twists and turns is a beloved autumn tradition. Many of the 500-plus corn mazes across the U.S. serve as a major source of income for the farmers who grow them.

The first corn maze was created in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. A 3-acre field was cut in the shape of a dinosaur using a grid system to plot the design — a commonly used method.

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Today, creating the Northern Neck Farm Museum’s annual 1.5-acre corn maze is a “very hands-on process,” said Barbara Jean Jones, chair of the museum’s board of directors.

Jones’ daughter uses the traditional method of creating patterns on paper and laying them out on a grid for cutting. After the corn is planted around late June and reaches grass height, various board members will begin cutting this year’s design with lawn mowers.

“We try to make it where visitors can go through the maze and come out in a reasonable time — it’s just a fun thing to go through, and the kids love it,” Jones added.

Planning, designing and cutting the 8-acre corn maze at Jeter Farm in Botetourt County is a year-round endeavor for the family. They use similar methods for creating their “preschool approved” maze.

“We get a lot of preschool groups and younger families that enjoy more of a walk with a few wrong turns than a full-blown maze,” explained Rose Jeter.

Many farmers hire professionals to develop a computer-aided design and cut the corn — especially for more challenging courses.

Bringing Wayside Farm’s complex, 10-acre corn maze to life requires help from The MAiZE Company, the world’s largest corn maze design firm.

The Clarke County farm will begin planting this year’s Spiderman-themed maze in late May. The seeds are cross-planted to ensure a thicker stand of corn — and no shortcuts for visitors.

“People get lost in there all the time,” laughed Philip Shenk, the farm’s part owner.

He said it’s “very gratifying” to welcome school groups and families to the 125-acre farm for its seven-week fall season, which will include a U-pick pumpkin patch, hayrides, barrel train rides, slides, an apple cannon and farm animals.

“There’s just so many kids now that are so far removed from the farm, so it’s a way to educate while we’re having fun,” Shenk remarked.

“It’s my hope that we are providing folks with a positive farm experience that also helps them see and appreciate where their food comes from,” Jeter said. She added that they utilize Virginia Agriculture in the Classroomresources.

Visitors to the Jeter Farm Fall Festival in late September through October will find educational signage, wagon rides, barnyard animals, a pumpkin train, newly designed Jeter Farm T-shirts and other fall activities. 

And nothing will go to waste once the corn mazes close, as most farms harvest the corn for livestock feed.