Farm kids have long been told to stay out of the corn so they don’t get lost. These days, farm kid or otherwise, everyone is encouraged to meander the stalks in the name of fun with the rising popularity of corn mazes.
Corn mazes are now a pumpkin patch mainstay, but surprisingly, they haven’t been around all that long.
Mazes themselves have held several different forms from the labyrinths of the Egyptians to garden and hedge mazes that were popular to stroll through in the 17th century, but the first corn maze didn’t come around until 1993.
Earl Beal, whose father was the owner of Knobel’s Amuesment Park in Pennsylvania, get a few nods as the first founder of the corn maze, but most popular noted are Dan Frantz and Adrian Fisher, who created “The Amazing Maize Maze” featuring a dinosaur in Lebanon Valley, Pa., where stalks were bent into a pattern by hand, using a grid-system pattern.
Franz was a creative director who did everything from a halftime show to Broadway shows to amusement parks — and Fisher was already a “maze expert,” his portfolio now including everything from mirror to hedge to water mazes.
Though neither were farmers or agriculturally inclined, their creation is now a big part of fall agrotourism. Curious about the largest corn maze to date? That would be a 65 acre one created last year in Quebec, Canada! Can you imagine?
You don’t need to head very far to get lost. A handful of our local Eastern Shore farms cut mazes into their fields.
Donna Saathoff of Family Affair Farms in Easton explains that each year their family gets excited to think about and plan out the maze theme to encourage family and friend groups to come out. They’ve had everything from pirates to the circus, and this year’s theme is inspired by the family’s love for escape rooms, where participants work together to solve clues to exit. “A-mazing Escape,” will feature a missing rich Aunt Georgina and clues left to her family for her whereabouts. You can come during the day to follow the clues, or come at night for added trickiness and fun.
Almost a decade ago, the Saathoffs decided to add a corn maze after traveling down to a fruit & veggie conference down in Savannah- a farmer’s vacation, if you will. There they learned about mazes and met a company that traveled the coast cutting mazes for large farms. They loved the idea and eventually came across “John the Corn Maze Guy,” who has now been their go-to guy for years. The family pitches their ideas and a sketch and from there, they go back and forth with John to turn their design into a reality.
To prepare the field, they start their corn crop a little later than normal, with a feed corn variety that will still be green and hearty come fall. When John the Corn Maze Guy comes down with his lawnmower — yes! A lawnmower — the corn is about two feet high. He takes the final design loaded into this GPS to clear the design path down to the ground. A-mazeingly, it only takes about 45 minutes. The Saathoff crew then sprays to keep the paths clear and that is that!
They then take a few drone shots for their big video reveal to the community, and then wait for the weather to finally take a dip from the summer heat and for the corn to reach a nice height of around 8 feet. To make it to the end of their annual maze, it’s usually about an hour which you can expect again this year, especially with the critical thinking needed for the theme!
One of the most fun stories about their maze is that after the first year when their design featured “Family Affair Farms” cut into it, they started getting the pilots that flew over coming into Easton Airport on weekends with their families. What great aerial advertising!
After you find Aunt Georgina, also in Talbot county is Councell Farms, who have a maze they teasingly call a “mom’s dream.”
They explain, it’s easy and quick, with the fun and feel of longer ones! With so many other activities at their farm like the jumping pillows and the combine slide, their 15 minute maze cut in by farmer Jason Councell helps you squeeze everything in without committing too much time and energy. Each year there are two lookout towers and slides, great for scouting out your bearings and your proximity to their ice cream shack.
Head to Caroline County to check out the Blough family’s JZ Farms, entering their second year of business. Have you noticed corn maze themes can be anything? Their design features one of the Queens of Country Music, Reba McEntire. They will be one of 40 mazes nationwide to celebrate Reba’s new book Not That Fancy and album that comes out in October, and as a perk, guests are even entered to win tickets to her release party! Even if you don’t win, the maze will feature photo ops, clues and quizzes along the way.
While their Reba maze is 10 acres — shew! — there’s also a kiddie maze. Visit their website to see if there will be a food truck during your visit and be sure to set aside (lots of) time for kids to enjoy their mini- town called “Farmerville,” which includes a seafood shack, vet’s office and more. If you made it to their opening year, come back this year for their new Feed Mill obstacle course.
Down in Dorchester county, Emily’s Produce has a 5-acre maze that features farm education throughout. The Jackson family are large supporters of buying local and of agricultural education which they’ve tied into their theme this year.
Maze travelers can expect six different stations to learn about farm life. After you learn about farming, you might as well enjoy some fruits of its labors in their farm market, and definitely maybe some of that famous chicken salad too! The ever-growing farm market is a great spot to get a meal to enjoy there and dinner for later too!
Whether you need to grab pumpkins or are just looking to enjoy the outdoors, visit one of our local family farms for a frolic through their maze!