The crackle of leaves underfoot, gusts of brisk air and navigating the twists and turns of an expansive corn maze herald the coming of autumn. South Carolina farmers put months of preparation into providing a festive fall experience for their visitors.
For Tom Garrison of Denver Downs Farm in Anderson, the planning process begins as soon as the previous maze season ends.
“We begin sharing our ideas about what worked and what did not,” Garrison says. “Each year we learn how to improve our next season.”
Designs are decided every January, with input from staff and customer feedback, for that year’s fall maze.
Intricate design themes such as “The Wild Wild West,” “Basketball Champions” and “The Grand Ol’ Pumpkin” have graced the fields of South Carolina. In 2013, Denver Downs even payed homage to the University of South Carolina and Clemson University’s football rivalry, by featuring coaches Dabo Sweeney and Steve Spurrier.
Once a theme and design are chosen, farmers plant their corn between May and July.
Kemp McLeod of McLeod Farms in McBee plants seven acres of corn each year for the maze, and stresses the importance of using the correct variety.
“We try to pick a variety that is tall and stays green longer,” McLeod says. “Disease resistance is probably the most important, along with stalk strength.”
The proprietors of corn mazes aim to bring agriculture to life for their visitors.
“There are more people living on cement than on soil,” McLeod says. “It’s up to us to educate the public about agriculture.”
Strawberry Hill USA’s South Carolina Grown corn maze emphasizes the importance of buying locally grown produce and teaches visitors where their food comes from.
“We are fortunate that our Commissioner is working hard to help our local farms,” owner James Cooley says. “They are putting their whole effort into letting people know about local and buying local, so we wanted to do our part to educate the public.”
Inspired by his daughters, Cooley embraced the idea of a corn maze at his West Chesnee farm to diversify his business and make agriculture accessible to the public.
Visitors are not the only ones who find joy in the corn mazes.
“I enjoy all parts of the maze,” Garrison says. “Being a full-time farmer, I take a great satisfaction in seeing the fruits of my labor such as a great pumpkin crop or tall, strong corn. I enjoy talking to the customers and making sure they have a safe, fun experience.”
The result of months of hard work brings smiles to countless faces. Families in South Carolina flock to corn mazes to enjoy a day of agricultural education and fun.