Monday, September 03, 2001

Corn mazes a money maker

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        TURTLECREEK TOWNSHIP — It's where the amusement park meets the farm. Each fall, more farmers convert their cornfields by carving paths, turns and dead-ends into mazes, which bring city people to the country and generate extra revenue for the farmers.

        At Hidden Valley Fruit Farm, adults pay $5 to challenge the disorienting 1 1/2-mile path through a 9-acre cornfield. There's also a smaller, easier maze for children.

  • What: Hidden Valley Fruit Farm's maze.
  • When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; by appointment Monday-Wednesday.
  • Where: The farm is located on Ohio 48 about 6 miles north of Lebanon.
  • Information: (513) 932-1869.
        But making mazes larger and more complicated — and thus more popular — is becoming the norm, some farmers say.

        “What's becoming popular is the complexity of the maze,” said Hidden Valley co-owner Bob Ullrich. “It's become entertainment.”

        With more residential development occurring near and around farms, farmers are creating new avenues to generate revenue from those residents.

        “It's a way to use the land resources and try to get some income from these people,” said Steve Bartels, Ohio State University extension agent, agriculture and natural resources. “Some families are looking to alternatives to getting bigger (farms). We're getting a lot more requests for alternative income sources.”

        Tom Eby spent more than 50 years as a dairy farmer in Montgomery County, but he sold the cows in 1999, a year after he opened his first corn maze.

        Four years later, the maze has become a large chunk of his operations, offering souvenir clothing and party packages.

        “I just was kind of looking for something else to do,” said Mr. Eby, who runs Tom's Maze every fall. “We have a lot of people come back for the second and third time. That tells me that they like it and have a lot of fun.

        “People like to get out of town and do things as family. The majority of city or town people haven't been in an actual, working cornfield. A lot of them had never actually seen corn before it was turned into corn flakes.”

        Throughout Mr. Eby's eight-acre maze and three miles of paths are 12 mailboxes, each containing a piece of a map of the maze.

        “When they find all 12, they've got a complete map of the maze,” he said. “We all just have a ball, dying laughing at people out there in the corn maze getting lost.”

        After the maze season, the farmers harvest the corn for feed.

        In addition to the corn mazes, Hidden Valley holds weekend festivals and will offer other fall activities like hayrides, haunted attractions and pumpkin-picking rides.

        “It has become mainline,” Mr. Ullrich said. “It is very, very important to our business.”


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