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Corn-maze craze fed by innovative farms

Corn-maze-craze-fed-by-innovative-farms

Marcia Crots walks the corn maze over 25 acres of her family's farm and takes 30 to 45 minutes to weave through.

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DUNDEE - With a satellite receiver strapped to his back, Shawn Stolworthy, a former farmer from Idaho, stood on the edge of Lyle Jaworski's 15-acre cornfield outside Dundee.

He waited for word from above. In his hands was a tiny computer. Soon, an invisible beam streamed down from a global positioning satellite in the sky. It illuminated the computer screen. Mr. Stolworthy started walking. Mr. Jaworski followed a few steps behind, guiding a roaring 4-foot-wide mower.

The men stomped 4.2 miles through the head-high stalks on that August Monday. They stopped, turned, and doubled back, following signs sent down from the sky.

They were done in one day.

Viewed from the sky, Mr. Jaworski's corn maze portrays a hunting dog frozen at full point and fluttering pheasants taking off from cover. At ground level, the labyrinth walls are a seemingly endless corridor of corn.

People pay the farmer $9.50 each to get lost inside. Sometimes, it takes them hours to find their way out. “They say it's awesome,” Mr. Jaworski said. “They come back the next weekend with their friends. They love it.”

Corn mazes are a growing autumn fixture, part of the “agri-entertainment” trend that helps family farmers like Mr. Jaworski make ends meet.

“Farmer J's Corn Maze,” next to the sprawling parking lot of Cabela's Sporting Goods, is only a small, seasonal part of the family's ongoing diversification. In addition to the 80-cow dairy herd, the Jaworskis tend 1,600 acres of crops and a game-bird preserve - thus the pheasant-hunting motif.

“A maze is good, clean entertainment. It's something different to do with the family, a way to stay in touch with life on the farm, a break from going to a movie. It's outdoors,” Mr. Jaworski said.

“It's a spectacle,” Mr. Stolworthy added. “An art spectacle. We were hired to design and cut 40 mazes this year, from Georgia up to British Columbia ... a stagecoach, cougars, tigers, whales, and lots of statues of liberty and eagles.”

Even if the shape can't be seen from the ground, maps and aerial photos help maze-walkers keep their bearings.

“It's like solving a 2-D puzzle, but you are physically inside it,” Mr. Stolworthy said.

You don't need a satellite link to make a maze. Dozens of low-tech labyrinths dot the area too.

For instance, Fallen Timbers Community Church in Waterville has a horse and rider design cut into its 24-acre maze.

Last year, visitors wandered through the church's giant Anthony Wayne Schools logo, designed on a computer but painstakingly cut over several weekends by volunteers.

Smaller farms cut their corn freestyle. They “play it by ear.”

At Fleitz Pumpkin Farm outside Oregon, Paul Fleitz grows five acres of thick, corn-like Sydex grass. When it's knee high, he wades in with a mower and just starts cutting.

“Following a pattern is too hard to do alone,” he said. “I just pick out 10 rest stops throughout the field and make windy paths and dead-ends. It works just fine. We haven't lost anyone yet.”

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