Agriculture meets amusement at Idaho's Farmstead Corn Maze

Lilit Marcus, CNNUpdated 2nd November 2017
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(CNN) — For many Americans, fall is more about pumpkin spice lattes than it is about actual pumpkins.
That's one of the reasons that farmers Hillary and Jim Lowe decided to open up an annual farm-themed autumn experience in their native Idaho. The Farmstead Corn Maze and Pumpkin Festival was launched by a friend of the Lowes, and he eventually sold the business to them. The couple met as undergrads at Utah State and returned to Jim's native Idaho together.
"Many people here [in Idaho] are only one or two generations removed from the farm," Jim says about The Farmstead, which takes place in Meridian, Idaho, just outside of the state capital of Boise, every October. He adds that despite that connection to agriculture, too many people still lose that sense of connection with nature and don't stop to think about where their food comes from.
The solution: a farm festival that makes agriculture feel like an amusement park. That includes a mix of activities for all ages, from a "sandbox" that uses pieces of corn instead of sand, where toddlers happily play while their parents look on, a slide where visitors sit on top of potato sacks as they whiz down and a "beeline" zip line where the ride ends up at the flower which has now been pollinated.
In addition, there's a petting zoo where kids can literally reach out and touch farm animals like cows and goats. (Selfies are optional, but highly encouraged.)
Traditional fair foods are also well-represented, from honey-flavored ice cream to candy apples and "tacos in a bag"--that would be taco fixin's dumped into a bag of Fritos and crushed up in one yummy, messy mix.

Amazing maize

This year's Pac-Man maze design.
This year's Pac-Man maze design.
The big attraction, though, is in the event's name: the corn maze, "MAiZE" (because it's too good of a pun to turn down).
Each year, the Lowes and their team come up with a new concept for the maze and reveal it just before the opening to generate (no bees included) buzz. For the 2017 event, which closed October 28, that theme was Pac-Man, with the maze's design resembling the classic arcade game.
Many of the little kids excitedly pulling their parents into the maze, however, have never heard of Pac-Man or set foot in an arcade. What they're here for is good old-fashioned fun, with the added bonus of family bonding via solving a puzzle together. Several parents were overheard saying how nice it was to get the kids away from a screen for the night and to have a family activity that didn't get interrupted by the phone ringing or the dog barking.
The Lowes' three children -- ages 5, 9 and 13 -- are part of this Farmstead experience too. They all work alongside their parents, starting with simpler jobs like selling candy and taking tickets and working their way up to operating rides.
Farmstead began in 1996, and since then the Lowes have come up with new things to add on each year in order to keep their regular visitors entertained. Beyond the changing corn maze theme, recent additions have included a cannon that shoots out candy, a trampoline/jumping pillow area dubbed "popping corn" and a giant inflatable pumpkin mascot.

No pearls, plenty of swine

Since Farmstead is all about teaching kids to value agriculture, it's no surprise that the attraction partners with a local elementary school.
How they do it, though, is somewhat unorthodox: The school has students and their families raise money by essentially "betting" on which teacher or school official they'd most like to see kiss a pig. The class that raises the most cash gets to see their chosen grownup paraded around at Farmstead and forced to kiss a pig (luckily, it's a cute baby piglet and not a big boar).
This year's "winner" (the educators get a heads-up so they can prep for swine-snogging) came out for the crowd of screaming kids dressed in a wolf costume. Both she and the piglet were game for the big moment, which went off without a (trailer?) hitch.
In a place where the goal is to get people up close and personal with nature, Farmstead delivers on its promise -- although it's probably more fun to get up close to an ear of corn than to the lips of a pig.