Here in the Treasure Valley there is a good chance that either your commute or part of your day involves passing by at least one corn field. It’s just as likely that you have driven by, or flown over, The Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival nestled between the very busy intersections of Eagle Road, Overland Road and I84. After multiple locations over the years and a name change, Jim and Hillary Lowe have been thrilled about their part-time family business that makes us all wonder, “How do they do that?”
The Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival is Idaho’s original corn maze by one of the first modern corn maze developers, Jim Lowe. While in college at BYU, Jim’s roommate, Brett Herbst, created a corn maze in American Fork, Utah which, at the time, ended up being the largest corn maze in the western United States. With Jim’s upbringing in the fields and ranches of Montana, along with his degree in Agri-Business, it was a perfect fit for him to go to work for Brett designing maze’s all over the country.
Hillary, a Caldwell, Idaho native, met Jim in college and actually became engaged while designing and managing a maze together in Pueblo, Colorado. The love story turned business partnership was now in full force. For two years they would take the fall semester off to travel around the country designing mazes, but always returning to Utah State in the “off season”. After graduating, Jim continued to work for Brett’s company, The MAiZE, Inc., designing over 250 mazes until the perfect opportunity came up in 2006 to purchase an existing maze from Sam Johnson here in the Treasure Valley. Two years ago they took a leap to change the name, logo and stake out the established location as The Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival in Meridian where it thrives today.
So how do they design such amazing mazes? It’s not GPS, aliens or some kind of giant cookie cutter, Jim cuts his corn “the old fashioned way.” The old fashioned way consists of using a computer program to design the labyrinth, then math, a good gut feeling and being REALLY good at knowing how many feet are in each personal stride. They cut the corn when it is in it’s infancy, so they can still have the upper hand on the feed corn’s height and perfect it as the summer bleeds into early fall and the people start to arrive. Passage ways, bridges and staff members help those who get lost, but they do shut the corn maze down a half hour before the Farmstead Festival closes at night so stragglers have time to work their way out.
This successful business, that started out with just Jim and Hillary, has expanded to their two (soon to be three) children and up to eighty staff members. During the festival, seven year old Brooklyn runs her own candy store, Little Lowe’s, and has done so since she was four. The second grader’s twenty-five cent candy store is “open ‘till we’re closed.” Max, Jim’s four year old right hand man, wants to be a farmer just like his Dad. Right now he is a professional hay rider and plans on driving the tractor during the festival as soon as his Dad will let him.
This once part-time venture for Jim and Hillary takes up many hours of their time but they are both fine with it, because no matter how you look at it, it is family time. Jim also runs approximately three hundred acres of corn and wheat throughout the Treasure Valley and is also involved with Ag in the Classroom where he helps educate grade school kids on how close we really all are to the agricultural industry.
While the Lowe’s are farmers first, they love educating and intertwining that into the Farmstead Festival with the help of the Idaho Department of Agriculture. This year, kids can earn tickets to the Farmstead Festival through the Idaho Preferred office and the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
The 2011 corn maze creation kept Jim busy as a little bee this year, and is it sweet! The Farmstead maze is a buzzing eighteen acres with honeycomb turns, a Mothra size bee and the words “Sweet as can Bee” carved out of this Meridian, Idaho cornfield. Discounted tickets are on sale now and can be purchased on The Farmstead website in advance. The earlier you buy, the sweeter the deal.
Though all The Farmstead attractions are highly entertaining and festival goers “can’t contain their energy,” Jim and Hillary know that this corn and pumpkin field, in the middle of a growing city, connects kids and adults to the agricultural world and helps even the biggest city kid feel as though he could one day be a farmer too.