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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Corn again: Maize mazes return for fall

By DON HIMSEL
Staff Writer

Corn mazes have become a draw all on their own, just like pumpkins and pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. They’re now part of modern harvest experiences and Halloween fun, and some sport their own brand of scary.

“It’s a big draw,” said Cameron Hardy, a sixth-generation farmer at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis. ...

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Corn mazes have become a draw all on their own, just like pumpkins and pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. They’re now part of modern harvest experiences and Halloween fun, and some sport their own brand of scary.

“It’s a big draw,” said Cameron Hardy, a sixth-generation farmer at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis.

Large operations feature mazes dozens of acres in size. His maze is 2 acres.

“At three bucks, it’s a great value,” he said.

Maze making

Though many of the more complex designs are created using software and GPS technology to carve out intricate designs only truly visible from the air, Hardy’s technique is simpler and begins with a sketch on paper.

‘”Every year, I come up with a design. I stake it out, spray-paint the design in orange on top of the stalks when they’re waist-high and trim it out,” he said.

The corn itself, cow corn not intended for human consumption, is planted in a much denser pattern than corn for sale at the farmstand. Hardy said sweet corn won’t grow high enough for his maze.

His tools are simple – a measuring wheel and a machete – though this year he used a gas-powered trimmer to carve out his masterpiece.

“Every year we come up with several designs,” Hardy said. “We may alter it as we go through the season.”

Of course, there’s more to crafting a good maze than sketching it out and hacking away.

“The big challenge this summer was water,” he said. “Once a certain height was reached, we measure it and leave a buffer on the edges so it stays well-hidden.”

Braving the maze

Though generally a positive experience, the winding path can be unnerving for some.

A much-publicized occurrence in 2011 featured a lost, “really scared” mom who called 911 when she and her family couldn’t find their way out of a Danvers, Mass., farm’s headless horseman maze. A police officer and his dog partner came to their rescue.

Farm owner Bob Connors said at the time, “We like to give people their money’s worth.” The farm still continues to draw using the 911 call as a marketing hook to this year’s Great Pumpkin-themed maze.

Tips to find your way out of the popular mazes abound online. Some farms provide maps; others do not. The most common helpful hint is to keep a hand running along a wall of stalks and keep it consistent throughout the walk. That technique, some say, will eventually lead you to a way out.

Fields of vision

Since corn mazes have such devoted fans, Hardy tries to keep things fresh.

“No two years are alike,” he said. “One year we had the word ‘farm’ spelled out. Another it was a tractor with smoke billowing out with wheels and a driver. The smoke led to a dead end,” he said.

Hardy also cut a big sunflower, mimicking the rows and rows of them the farm grows behind the farmstand each year.

“Inside the sunflower was its own little labyrinth. I try to find something that the kids can find their way out of and make it fun,” he said.

Taking stalk

Reflecting on why corn mazes strick a chord with visitors, Hardy noted the family-friendly fun the provide.

“People say agritourism is big. It’s another thing people can enjoy as a family without worrying about spending a ton of money. They’ll have memories, and they come back every year for it. It’s their annual pilgrimage.

“The kids love it. That’s the reason we do it,” Hardy said.

Hardy said his own kids, Siena, 10, and Quinn, 8, are his beta testers.

“If they give the thumbs-up, I know I’m doing well,” he said.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590, dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DonH.