In an age when additional sources of income on the farm are becoming a necessity, a couple of dairy operators near Belleville are reaping the benefits of an innovative idea.
Earlier this year Scott Haggerty and his father Jim constructed a giant corn maze, so big, in fact, they think it's the largest in Ontario. While not altogether positive on that point, Jim says, "We don't know of anything larger ... we've researched it on the Internet and anything we've found is smaller."
Jim says the maze is cut out of an eight-acre field and, unlike others he's come across, it isn't a corner cut off a field: "Ours is a stand-alone, it takes up five and a half acres."
Until this year the father and son team had stuck to dairy farming, milking about 40-head on their 320 acres in West Huntington. Jim says they got the maze idea from the Internet and it seemed like a good way to bring in an "extra bit of income for the farm." So far, he says, people have come in good numbers to try it out and they seem to like it.
"Most of the customers are urban people," says Jim. "It's something totally different for them, I think, totally new. It's neat and people actually get good exercise as well."
Work on the masterpiece started back in May when the Haggertys began carving out the field, literally by hand. Scott says planting was done May 11 and two weeks later he and his dad "hoed out by hand" the shape of the maze. Using a measuring tape and a map he had earlier designed, Scott says the whole thing took about 20 hours. At the height of the season, he says, the corn stands about "eight or nine feet high." They've also added a children's area which is only "two bales high" so kids can see.
Busy already with the dairy operation, Jim says he and his son weren't quite prepared for the maze's popularity. He says more than 300 people every weekend have made the drive, about 15 minutes north of Belleville, to try it out. "The first couple of weeks it was pretty hectic with the chores. Luckily both our wives have been helping."
In typical entrepreneurial fashion, the Haggertys looked around to see how they could enhance the experience. Jim says the old West Huntington Cheese Factory just happens to be on the property, a family business which operated for 75 years before closing in the mid-1950s. Jim says with "old antique equipment" still intact, it became a perfect spot to make a sort of snack bar, complete with a product Jim stumbled upon called corn nuts.
As for the maze itself, he says the more than 3,000 metres of paths are divided into three sections. He says it's actually a bit of an "educational experience" since along the way, visitors will find a variety of signs containing "corn facts" and general information about the dairy industry. The whole thing takes between 45 minutes and an hour to get through and both father and son insist "nobody really gets lost."
For this year the Haggertys have been open every weekend from Friday to Sunday, a situation they both say may change next year if the demand is there. The grand finale comes at Halloween when for the whole week leading up to the 31st, the family is planning a haunted maze.
Admission is five dollars. Children under six get in free.