About Utah: His a-mazing work in cornfields gives Y. grad plenty to crow about

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 1:23 a.m. MDT

When it comes to corn mazes, Brett Herbst is outstanding in his field. The BYU graduate's company annually designs more mazes than anyone.

Lee Benson, Deseret News

He was 23 years old, fresh out of college, already had a good-paying job, with benefits and all that, and he gave it up to carve mazes in cornfields.

He remembers his dad's response: "Son, you've got rocks in your head."

That was 16 years ago.

Now, the world's No. 1 corn maze designer can look back on his decision to go off grid, as it were, and gloat.

Well, he could if he were a gloating kind of guy, and if he had the time.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Turn left for Obama, right for Romney and try to find your way to the finish line.

Brett carved this recyclable Mount Rushmore with his own tractor, just like he carved the NASA logo last year and the Boy Scout logo the year before that. He did one of Larry H. Miller the year he died, and John Stockton after he retired. When the Olympics were here, he did a "Discover the Gold" theme.

And that's just in Utah. He's carved images in cornfields all over the United States, as well as England, Canada and Poland. Each year Brett's company, Cornbelly's (cornbellys.com), fields inquiries from here, there and everywhere. In all, he's carved up more than 2,000 cornfields and had to turn down offers to carve up at least that many more.

Who knew? Back in 1996, no one suspected there was this kind of future in corn mazing.

He was freshly graduated from BYU at the time. He'd majored in agribusiness and was hired straight out of college by the LDS Church as a manager of its huge welfare farm at Elberta on the west side of Utah Lake.

For a farmer, life doesn't get much more secure.

But one day an article in a farming magazine caught Brett's eye. It was about a man in England who carved a maze in his cornfield and opened it up to people who would pay to see if they could make their way from beginning to end.

Brett was young, carefree and ready for a challenge; and he knew how to grow corn.

He called a few BYU buddies as helpers, leased some farmland just west of the I-15 freeway in American Fork, plowed under the weeds in May, planted corn and carved a maze — he called it a maize — in the pattern of a Y and a U.

In September he opened the gates. When he closed them three weeks later, 18,000 people had gotten lost and found in his field.

That's when he decided to quit his job.

There were no guarantees that the maze craze would last, let alone grow.

But it did and it has, to the point that Cornbelly's has become the world's largest cornfield maze company and Brett its undisputed Michelangelo.

Although he downplays the degree of difficulty in sculpting mazes.

"Anybody who has a little patience and isn't afraid to break a sweat can do it," he says. "It's like connecting dots on the back of a cereal box. You get good at it the more you do it; you don't need as many dots."

That may be the case, or, considering how many people continue to call Brett for his services, maybe not.

Regardless, he says he considers himself "one of the luckiest guys alive" — not because he is emperor of an emerging business empire, but because carving corn mazes has allowed him to own his own farm.

Thanks to Cornbelly's, he was able to realize a life's dream and purchase a 190-acre farm in Spanish Fork, where he and his wife Nicole and their six kids grow pumpkins, wheat and, of course, corn.

"I always wanted to run my own business and own my own farm," says Brett, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Idaho. "Now I've got the best of both worlds. I can afford to farm."

This year he designed a maze on the cornfield at his farm. It's an image of his dad, Dale. With the inscription: "My Hero."

"I'm his biggest fan," says Brett. "And he's my biggest fan."

Eventually, they all come around.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. email: lbenson@desnews.com

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