Remember that timeless quote, “If you build it, they will come,” from the movie Field of Dreams? Farmers across Utah are discovering truth in that saying, but they’re not building baseball diamonds in their cornfields – they’re concocting corn mazes, giant slides, hay mountains and other opportunities for people to connect with farm life.
It’s a concept called agritourism, and it’s sweeping the nation as urbanites discover how much fun a day in the country can be, and farmers take advantage of a terrific way to add value to their land.
“Farmers and ranchers are figuring out what makes them unique and what activities they can offer to city people that are so different from their everyday lives,” says Steven Burr, director of the Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State University. “People today are so disconnected from their food source, so agritourism interests them. And farmers are becoming aware of the possibility to make an income from it.”
Black Island Farms
Dorathy and Brandon Law, owners of Black Island Farms in Syracuse, began their agritourism venture in 2005. Their 275-acre farm has been in Dorathy Law’s family for four generations, and their main crops are carrots, onions and cabbage.
They also grow corn, pumpkins, gourds and squash for their fall harvest festival, which features a 28-acre corn maze (the largest in Utah), farmers market, pumpkin hayrides, a straw mountain, animal alley, cow train, kiddie corral, corn cannon, pig races and more.
“Our goals are to provide entertainment to the public, promote awareness of agriculture and create an environment where people can have fun while accepting the various challenges our maze has to offer,” Law says. “We’ve cross-planted agriculture and entertainment, and the result is agri-tainment – a high-concept, low-tech means of melding the two worlds in order to get families off the couch and into the corn.”
The recurring fall event brings families and corporate groups back year after year.
“Each visit unveils new and exciting challenges that enthrall children, bond families and boost employees’ morale, while delivering the message of the American farm,” she says. “Black Island Farms Harvest Festival and Maze reaches across generations. Children attack it like a video game, youth accept the challenge and seniors reconnect with their own memories of growing up on the farm.”
Cornbelly’s And The Maize
When Brett Herbst created his first corn maze in American Fork in 1996, he hoped to draw a couple thousand people. But news of the “corny” attraction spread like crazy, and it hosted 18,000 visitors in just three weeks.
“It was way more popular than we expected,” Herbst says. “People came out of the woodwork.”
Soon, other farmers began calling Herbst for ideas and help building their own corn mazes, so he launched The MAiZE, now the largest corn maze consulting company in the world. he has designed more than 2,000 corn mazes worldwide, some as far away as Canada, England, Ireland and Poland.
“We design the maze, lay it out in the field with spray paint and even cut out the design for our clients,” Herbst says. “We have four crews that travel all over the country.”
Popular designs include patriotic and college football logos, but the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve done ‘Wizard of Oz’ mazes this year because it’s the movie’s 70th anniversary,” Herbst says. “We also did Al Roker from the ‘Today Show’ at a maze in Iowa and Derek Jeter in New Jersey.”
Herbst and his wife, Nicole, continue to operate their own Cornbelly’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Fest in Lehi, drawing hoards of fun-seekers each October.
The theme of their maze changes every year, but Herbst says his all-time favorite was their 1999 maze.
“It had the planets and the whole solar system,” he says, “it broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest corn maze.”
Enjoy Agritourism All Year
Other Utah farms provide attractions year-round.
Staheli Family Farm in Washington has autumn attractions galore, but they’ve also partnered with High Fly’n Zip Lines to offer visitors a 400-foot-long zip ride over the farm. In December, the farm presents a free Live Nativity. Come spring, it hosts an Easter Egg-stravaganza with egg hunts, old-fashioned games, cow train rides, the Easter Bunny and baby animals.
Young Living Farms in Mona is a peaceful escape, with fragrant lavender fields and more than 1,400 acres of herbs. Activities include essential oils classes, the annual Run Through the Lavender 5K in June, wagon rides, paddleboat cruises and a late summer lavender harvest, bottled as pure essential oil.