November 15, 2018
Written By Adam Buckallew
Since 2002, the Shryock family has carved fields of corn into imaginative mazes. Located conveniently on Interstate 70 just outside of Columbia, Mo., the rustic labyrinths have firmly established the Shryock’s Callaway Farms as an annual agritourism destination that draws thousands of visitors to the family’s fields each fall.
The idea to begin cutting mazes into their corn came from Mike Shryock, a member of the farming family’s fifth generation. Fresh out of college, he was looking at ways to diversify the farm’s revenue streams beyond traditional row crops. The Shryocks soon discovered the small plot of corn they devote to the maze each year held immense potential – between 15,000 to 20,000 guests visit their farm annually.
While some farms hire specialty contractors to create custom corn mazes, the Shryocks have developed their own methods. Every winter, the family brainstorms ideas for the next theme. Once a consensus is reached, Mike sets to work devising the layout with a spatial management program on his computer.
Designs featuring local sports teams’ logos are popular but require approval from copyright holders. The University of Missouri has been depicted in some fashion five times and the St. Louis Cardinals have appeared twice. This year’s selection honors the upcoming 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk.
In the 16 years since the initial design, the maze has grown from seven acres to its current 16-acre size. While the Shryocks plant most of their corn in the spring, the maze is seeded in late June.
“It goes in about a month-and-a-half later than the rest of our corn crop,” Mike says. “That helps it stay green longer in the fall. We plant a long-season hybrid for the same reasons.”
When the corn reaches two feet in height, the Shryocks begin mapping their agrarian artwork with flags marking each point of navigation within the field. Once the corn gets a bit taller, mowers guided by precision global positioning technology carefully begin the process of chopping stalks to form the maze’s pathways.
“There’s lots of trimming and maintenance work that’s done to keep the field looking good throughout the season,” Mike says. “We have someone go through it once a week to keep it clean, which is quite a bit of work.”
Irrigation helps to ensure the late-planted corn matures to a suitable height and is healthy enough to last until early November when the maze season ends.
While the corn maze, which typically takes about an hour and a half to navigate, is the main attraction, the Shryocks provide visitors with plenty of agri-entertainment options. An admission ticket to the corn maze includes access to the activity barn where kids can find a corn pit, rope swings, an observation deck overlooking the maze and a three-story tube slide. There’s also a one-acre pumpkin patch for guests to browse, and group hayrides are available by reservation.
Besides amusing visitors, the Shryocks welcome the opportunity to talk with guests about farming.
“Getting into the agritourism business has been fun for our whole family and it’s given us a chance to promote our industry to a lot of visitors who no longer have ties to agriculture,” Mike says. “We get lots of interesting questions about farming, raising corn and food production.”