DUNSTABLE — Maze or maize? That was the question for local farmer Wes Goss several years ago when he decided to cast about for new ways to make his Pleasant Street farm pay.
“The object is to keep your land in agricultural use and having a maze has just been a big help in keeping local farms active,” said Goss of his decision three years ago to turn a three-acre section of his cornfield into a maze.
“The maze has proven to be a very popular attraction for the farm,” said Goss, whose family has owned and operated the Goss Farm since 1914. “The craze only started about 15 years ago, but it’s spread all over the country. For Goss Farm, we already built the new ice cream stand but wanted to do something else for the fall. We did some research and having a maze was the best option.”
The current popularity of corn mazes was kicked off by a central Pennsylvania farmer named Gerald Hoffer who teamed with a former Disney employee to create a giant, three-acre maze in the shape of a dinosaur with proceeds to be given to flood victims in the Midwest.
Since then, the idea has caught on in a big way until there is hardly anyone in the country that does not live within a few miles of a maze come the fall. In an increasingly urbanized environment, the craze has given new life to family farms and helped develop more familiarity about them among the general population.
Such has certainly been the case with the Goss family farm.
There, Goss said that in addition to the maze, his farm also features a number of other activities designed to provide entertainment for the whole family, including the sale of the ever-popular pumpkin, a cow-train ride involving a barrel with wheels done up like a cow, more traditional hay rides, a petting zoo stocked with typical farm animals, and even a horse show or two.
But with thousands of eager visitors coming to the farm during the fall season, unquestionably the main attraction is its maze, which this year will be themed around Boston’s Children’s Hospital.
According to Goss, his family has personal reasons to show support for the hospital and has pledged to set aside a percentage of all earnings from this year’s maze for the hospital.
“We just wanted to do something that would let us give back,” explained Goss.
Hoping to raise as much as $15,000 for the hospital, Goss said part of the charitable promotion would be to create the hospital’s logo at the center of the new maze being created for next fall.
“It’s not too difficult a logo to do,” claimed Goss. “For the Children’s Hospital, it’s a nurse holding a baby that will be located right in the middle of the maze. The rest of the maze around the logo will be the usual puzzle.”
One would expect that to get such a complicated job right, sophisticated modern means such as satellite imaging or aerial observation and direction would have to be employed, but nothing of the sort is needed.
“It’s all done on a grid,” revealed Goss. “We start in the spring by planting rows of corn going in two directions so it grows thick enough that when the maze is done, no one in it can see over to any other part. They’ll be able to hear other people in the maze but they won’t be able to see them.”
Goss said that more than 160,000 seeds are spread over a five-acre field at the Route 113 farm and the corn grown is later harvested in the usual manner and used as silage for cows.
“I design the maze myself and then bring in Brett Herbst from Utah who is an expert at constructing them,” continued Goss. “We plant corn in June and when it grows to about 6 inches in height, Brett comes in and cuts out the maze. He did that about three weeks ago.”
Goss said that with the maze pattern dug out, the remaining corn will continue to grow closing in the maze’s pathways. By the time September rolls around, it will be ready for the first fun seekers.
Goss could not say just how many people visit the farm over the autumnal season but there are definitely many thousands coming from as far away as south of Boston and north into New Hampshire.
With the maze open for the Halloween season from Sept. 10 to Oct. 31 and tickets going for $9 for adults and $6 for children, Goss encourages one and all to come down and help make his drive to raise money for a good cause a successful one.
“It’s a fun fall activity for the whole family,” promised Goss. “So c’mon down!”