Bert Bouwman, a local farmer, drafts his corn maze designs by hand, with pencil on paper.
The trick is to make the trails interesting on the ground and from the sky. "I'm not an artist, but it turns out looking OK," he said, adding that this handmade quality defines his farming methods as well.
Bouwman, whose specialty is sweet corn, together with his family owns and operates the Twin Cities Harvest Festival and Maze in Brooklyn Park.
The roadside attraction, which is in its third year, is open weekends through Oct. 28, as well as Oct. 18-19 (MEA week). Every year, the place changes its theme, and the Bouwmans team up with a local charity. This fall, the 19.5-acre maze, which Bouwman bills as the state's largest, is about supporting the troops.
The cornfield portrays the raising of the flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Bouwman, who is Dutch but grew up in Brazil, chose that picture because it represents "a heroic moment in American history," and it's highly recognizable, he said. Around the maze's edges, cornstalks spell out Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
A portion of ticket sales will go to the Minnesota Military Family Foundation, which provides financial support to military families in need.
"We're extremely grateful for their service," Bouwman said.
"There are a lot of families without their loved ones."
Separately, Bouwman is also donating money from the sale of specially grown pink pumpkins to benefit the Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation for breast cancer research.
In the past, the maze marked the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary and 20 years since it won the 1991 World Series.
Fun, intense farming
Bouwman gained his experience while at his previous job, managing Sever's Corn Maze in Shakopee.
Unlike other farms that create corn mazes using GPS technology, Bouwman and his helpers do everything manually. "It's fun, intense farming," he said. "It's a small field where a lot of action happens."
This includes everything from planting, hoeing and irrigating the corn, to grooming miles of zigzagging trails.
The cornstalks are 11 feet tall this year, well above the norm of six to eight feet. Bouwman attributed that to "extra TLC," adding, "We put a lot of heart and soul into it."
The maze takes about an hour to get through.
Visitors, armed with a map, hunt for 20 signs in the maze that have trivia questions about the military. Signs also tell about the farm and contain clues to a kid-friendly puzzle.
Outside of the maze, the Bouwmans offer hayrides, a corn pit, a petting zoo, live music, a pumpkin slinger game, helicopter rides and more.
"It's rewarding because you see families making memories," he said.
A new chapter
Nicola Peterson, a spokesperson for Sever's Corn Maze, said that corn mazes are a good way to support small farms.
Sever's Corn Maze, which opened in 1997, claims to be the state's first.
It drew inspiration from England's ages-old hedge mazes. "We thought, 'Maybe we can do this in corn,' as kind of a Midwestern take on it," she said.
Since then, more and more corn mazes have sprung up all over the country. "A lot of farmers have seen corn mazes as a way to diversify," she said.
It's helped that, in recent years, there's been a sort of "return to supporting local, small farmers and a renewed interest in what we call agri-tainment," she said.
Tanya Bagwell, who lives in Champlin, is all for it. She had driven past the Brooklyn Park maze countless times before finally stopping by in 2010.
Since then, visiting the place has become a family tradition.
"My kids love it," she said. "They could stay there all day."
She's struck by the maze's workmanship. "It seems like it appears overnight," and yet the designs are "very detailed, with lots of long turns and dead ends," she said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.