No two corn mazes are created alike and each leads its inhabitants around twists and turns with only a few ways out. Despite the differences, what binds the dedicated owners who work endless hours preparing corn mazes together is one common thread – bringing joy to the hundreds of visitors they entertain annually.
“What it boils down to is trying to create magical moments for our guests,” co-owner of Tweite’s Family Farm in Byron, Tom Tweite said. “Magical moments are what you’ll remember throughout your entire life.”
Tweite and his wife, Colleen, plan their 12-acre corn maze theme five years in advance and use GPS equipment to design their maze once the corn is tall enough. This year’s theme is “heading west.”
“If you just let yourself go and come with family or friends, we guarantee that you’ll have a blast,” Tweite said. “Corn mazes are a hoot. The only reason we charge is because we have to pay the bills. I just enjoy the smiles.”
The same can be said for Kathy Parranto, who owns Applewood Orchard in Lakeville with her husband. This is the fifth year that the family-run orchard has featured a corn maze; the idea of which came at the insistence of Parranto’s sons.
“Everything we do is customer-related,” she said. “The maze is another fun activity people who come and see us can enjoy. It’s been working out quite well.”
Applewood’s 2017 corn maze is designed on 10-acres and will be a traditional maze design without characters, though they’ve featured pumpkins, dinosaurs and dragons in the past. Like Tweite’s Family Farm, Parranto said they rely on GPS to design their corn maze. The company they use finishes the maze by using Round Up to clear the walking path.
Parranto said Applewood aims to keep the maze simple and family-friendly. The maze features markers with questions on them and, when answered correctly, will lead maze goers along the right path.
Having points of interest in the corn maze helps keep the crowds entertained while letting them know they’re going the correct way, which is something that Ted Galaty, owner of Willow’s Keep Farm in Zumbrota, has found to be true as well.
“We have objects in the corn maze for people to find, like wood cutouts,” he said. “The maze takes about 30-45 minutes to get through and has seven different points of interest. I do this for the entertainment factor. I want people to come back each year to see what’s new. That’s what I get out of it.”
Unlike Tweite’s Family Farm and Applewood Orchard, Galaty has found that it works best for him to use a riding lawn mower to make the design in the four acre corn maze, which he has planted with the help of a farmer.
“When the corn is knee high by the Fourth of July, I go in with my riding lawn mower,” he explained. “I draw it out on paper and try to stick with it. I’m just a small operation, so I tend to like to do this stuff on my own. We do our initial cut in July and go back in with hand shears to cut out corn to finalize it and give the maze more detail.”
Tweite, Parranto and Galaty all know that while they can be as prepared as possible for when their operations open each fall by planning their designs in advance, one thing that they can never predict is the weather.
“We’ve put irrigation in our field on occasion because the corn is planted in double rows, so if you don’t have enough rain to keep it growing, you have another way to water it,” Parranto said. “Of course this year has been nothing but rain so we haven’t had a problem.”
The success and hardship of Tweite’s Family Farm also relies heavily on the weather, Tweite said.
“We do all of our planning to make sure our corn is planted as soon as it can be, but we really do need to have some relatively decent days for people to enjoy us,” he said. “Unless we have good weather for people to come out… that’s our hardest thing to work with.”
Likewise, Galaty has found success with planting corn as soon as he can get in the ground, but says it’s a constant worry each year.
“It’s constant responsibility to farm,” he said. “It’s a learning curve. Before I started this, I had no faming experience. You just have to learn by trial and error. I’m still doing that.”
The three independent organizations are keeping their fingers and corn stalks crossed for good weather for the 2017 season and are eager to bring fall fun to the southern Minnesota area, one corn maze at a time.
“It’s the opportunity to put the phone down and spend quality time with your friends and family,” Tweite said. “We go way out of our way to make sure that you have the greatest experience possible.”
Tweite’s Family Farm
1821 Frontier Road SW
Byron, MN 55920
22702 Hamburg Ave.
Lakeville, MN 55044
Willow’s Keep Farm
47385 Highway 52
Zumbrota, MN 55992
By Anna Vangsness