In the years since Jim and Hillary Lowe started creating corn mazes in the fall as a way to supplement their income as farmers, a corn maze industry has grown up with them.
The Lowes made their first corn maze in 2002, back when such attractions were a relative novelty. They operated corn mazes in Colorado and Utah before buying out a friend in Idaho in 2006 and creating the Farmstead, which now offers a large array of fall-themed attractions on 52 acres in Meridian.
Nowadays, the farm maze industry includes an association of maze operators called Corn Mazes America. Scott Skelly of Corn Mazes America estimated that 600 to 800 corn mazes are flourishing nationwide this fall. They include a variety of attractions such as rides, petting zoos, haunted houses and pumpkin patches. A Utah maze consulting and design company called The MAiZE says it helped design mazes in 260 communities in the U.S., Canada, Poland and Ireland in 2015. And a 60-acre maze in Dixon, Calif., was designated
the world’s largest temporary corn maze by Guinness World Records.
Amidst all this hoopla, the Lowes are running an operation firmly geared toward teaching visitors about the area’s agricultural heritage. The Farmstead, which caters to school and other groups and to individual visitors, has a petting zoo, pig racing, and an educational bee-themed zip line ride that the Lowes designed with help from the Idaho Honey Industry Association.
“I have always loved farming and agriculture,” said Jim Lowe, who with Hillary Lowe farms 400 acres in Kuna during the rest of the year. He studied business and agribusiness at Utah State University. “The concept of having crowds come to a farm was very foreign to me, but it really is the meeting of two different worlds.”
While many corn maze operators create their mazes using GPS, Jim Lowe designed the Farmstead maze the old-fashioned way. This year, the 18-acre maze is based on the Pac-Man game.
“I just measure and count steps and scratch my head and walk in circles,” Jim Lowe said. He said GPS is usually used with a machine when planting, and results in rounded corners and other inexact touches.
“This is where my passion for corn mazes and being really precise comes into play,” he said. With GPS, “you can be off by a couple of inches. When I am checking by hand, and verifying, I can make the corners crisp how I want them to be.”
The pair declined to give attendance numbers, saying only that tens of thousands of people visit each season. They employ 150 to 200 seasonal workers for the five weeks that the maze is open, including actors who take the roles of scary characters in nighttime events in the maze.
They also run seven food establishments on the site, including a barbecue place and a stand that sells hand-dipped corn dogs.
And even though Farmstead this year added a gigantic inflatable dinosaur-like beast to garner attention from the highway, in general, the Farmstead hews very closely to the theme of local agriculture. The Lowes offer a free pass to students who undertake a school-based program where they track what they eat and identify the items that could have been grown by an Idaho farmer.
“We don’t want to be a carnival that rolls through town; everything has some connection to the farm the farm experience,” said Jim Lowe. “We love interacting with people and being at that intersection of the agricultural community and the urban or suburban community.”