SPANISH FORK Brett Herbst is having an a-MAiZE-ing impact in states throughout America.
Herbst and his crew have spent a busy summer creating more than 170 cornfield mazes in all but a dozen U.S. states, even adventuring across the border to provide mazes in other countries. The efforts will provide thousands of folks an opportunity to venture inside mazes walled by 12-foot-high green and yellow corn stalks. The puzzles, usually created inside cornfields that grow silage, take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to negotiate.
Over the past 10 years Herbst and his crew, all Utahns, have created more than 840 mazes in the United States and five other countries.
A Spanish Fork native and founder of The MAiZE, Herbst grew up on a cattle ranch and after earning a college degree in agri-business, wanted to stay with the vocation he loved. So he rented several acres of farmland in American Fork to pursue his dream. To supplement his farm income, he decided to take a lesson from Don Frantz, who cut the first corn maze in Pennsylvania in 1993, and created the first maze west of the Mississippi. Armed with machetes and a weed trimmer fitted with a saw blade, Herbst and his crew went to work.
"I didn't know it would grow into this (nationwide operation)," he said. "If I had known what I was getting into it would have scared the dickens out of me."
He recruited family and friends in the early years to help cut the mazes.
The MAiZE has seen stunning growth in recent years relying only on word-of-mouth endorsements, a Web site and news coverage as advertising sources.
"A lot of farmers talk to other farmers," he said.
The result: farmers looking to supplement their income go to the Web site www.cornfieldmaze.com for more information.
The mazes are intricately designed using precise measuring and a flagging system. The design is first created on paper, then crews lay it out on the ground when the stalks are about 6 inches tall. Adjustments are made using a garden tiller or mower machetes are no longer the norm. Sometimes the crew uses a herbicide. Farmers often photograph the maze after it's completed, but Herbst says he never uses photography to create a design.
The mazes begin opening in late summer but the bulk operate in the fall when crops are dormant, some staying open through Christmas, Herbst said.
His trained crews which fluctuate in size from two to 10 workers are currently working on about eight mazes. Herbst has received an order to create a maze in Mexico in December that will open in February. Another one is underway in Texas. His own maze which will open this fall is a partnership with Thanksgiving Point that features a "Napoleon Dynamite" theme.
"It's (creating mazes) year-round for us," Herbst said.
Orders start coming in during January, and design work usually takes place in the late winter and early spring with most of the physical work in the spring and summer.
"June and July are the busiest months," he said.
Many of his clients are repeat customers.
Barbara Peavey recently opened her family's 5-acre maze, which commemorates the 2004 World Series won by the Boston Red Sox. It's the second year for a corn maze at the 190-acre Thunder Road Farm in Corinna, Maine, 210 miles north of Boston.
"My husband's a huge Red Sox fan," she said.
All three major television networks were scheduled to do stories on the maze. Peavey has also been on local radio and in area newspaper stories, she said.
"This is all new for us. People don't know about corn mazes here," she said.
But they're learning fast. Last year the farm's lobster maze attracted some 8,000 people paying an average of $5 each. This year Peavey expects 10,000 to 15,000 visitors to the family corn field. Schools and church groups have already made reservations.
"We don't get to keep all of it," she said.Comment on this story
Like any business, some must go to expenses. Herbst charged Peavey $1,500 for the design, but prices vary, he said. He also assisted in setting up children activities in the courtyard that leads to the maze. The MAiZE gets 6 percent of the gate. The mazes provide farmers with a financial boost so they don't have to rely entirely on crop prices which can fluctuate widely from year-to-year. Herbst also assisted Peavey in getting publicity and sponsors, Peavey said."We work our vegetable crop in the morning then come out here to relax and have fun," Peavey said. "You see people laugh, you see people smile, you see people coming as a family."