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Rural Missouri Magazine

A 'mazing' agriculture
Visitors to Gunter Farms’ Pumpkin Patch & Maze Daze learn what happens down on the farm

by Jim McCarty

Lloyd and Jane Gunter use their corn maze to teach visitors about agriculture. In a typical year, nearly 5,000 people will visit the farm located near Conway, playing farm-themed games, testing their skills at the corn maze and maybe picking up a pumpkin or two grown on the farm.

For 10 years, dairy farmer Lloyd Gunter has seen the expressions of amazement appear on faces when he demonstrates that milk comes from the udder on a cow. Those expressions turn puzzled when Lloyd’s wife, Jane, adds that these brown cows eat green grass and produce white — not chocolate — milk.

“There’s a tremendous amount of people who don’t know that milk comes from a cow,” Lloyd says. “They think it comes from a store. So I bring a cow out and explain to them the parts of a cow. And I actually squirt some milk from the cow and let them see it.”

Ever since the summer of 1999 when Waynesville’s school district asked for a farm tour, the Gunters have opened their farm to visitors who want to experience what goes on down on the farm. The following year, their daughter asked to bring her kindergarten class to the farm. Today, school groups from all over the Ozarks take field trips to the farm.

Lloyd and Jane educate them all right, but they also make sure guests leave with a smile on their face.

The Gunter Farms Pumpkin Patch and Maze Daze weekends have become a fall ritual for people in a wide radius around Conway where the farm is located. Starting with the spring planting this year, Lloyd worked to turn 12 acres of tall-growing Brazilian corn into an elaborate maze. Meanwhile, the pumpkin patch has produced thousands of healthy specimens, enough for each of the anticipated school kids and adults to take one home.
And before the first guests begin arriving Sept. 26, the family will have cleaned out its big barn and set up a variety of games ranging from calf bottle bowling to pumpkin golf.

A typical guest will spend two to three hours on the farm, playing games, walking the maze, taking a hayride to the pumpkin patch and perhaps roasting hot dogs if the visit is in the evening. “When they leave, we hope they have learned something about the farm life and where their food comes from,” Lloyd says. “We want them to see that it is a good quality product that we are producing.”

An aerial view shows the 2009 corn maze Lloyd Gunter planted and cut freehand. This year’s maze encourages visitors to “think green” and features two wind turbines that are close to life-size. The maze covers 12 acres and is just one of the farm’s many activities. Photo courtesy of Gunter Farms.

Adds Jane: “We try to impress on them that we have to be good caretakers because we live here. If we spoil something, this is our home. We have to be very careful with everything that we do.”

This year’s corn maze theme reflects the couple’s concern for the environment. It depicts two wind turbines sized close to the real ones that generate electricity for Missouri’s electric cooperatives. Transmission lines form the bottom of the maze. The sun that makes all things grow is included along with the words, “Think Green.”

Lloyd says the inspiration for this year’s maze came from the frequent references to energy conservation he hears at board meetings for Webster Electric Cooperative, where he is a director. “I’ll be teaching visitors about electricity, what the windmills do and how much generation we get from them. It’s not a great deal, but if it’s just 1 or 2 percent, then it’s just that much we are saving and don’t have to generate with coal power.”

The couple’s focus on conservation shows up elsewhere, from the bale rings made from old electric wire reel hoops to the sunflower-shaped bird feeders cut from old tires. “We are trying to do everything we can to recycle as much as we can,” Lloyd says. “You can’t buy new for everything.”

When guests are finished finding their way through the elaborate corn maze, the corn will be harvested to feed the 75-80 head of dairy cows the family milks. Lloyd says the idea for each year’s maze comes from many hours of thought in the winter months, along with some valuable input from family members.

One year the theme was a giant eagle holding a fish. The eagle represented a friend who passed away and the fish is the Christian symbol. Last year, Lloyd carved a giant baseball with two Cardinals sitting on a bat at the advice of his son, an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, and a daughter who works for the Springfield Cardinals. For another year, Lloyd designed a giant bear face, which, depending on your loyalty, could have represented the Conway Bears or the Missouri State University mascot.

With help from friends, family and neighbors, the Gunters prepare pumpkins for schoolchildren who will visit the family's farm this fall.

Once he has a theme in mind, Lloyd seeds it with a four-row planter. While most corn mazes are created with satellite-guided equipment, Lloyd does his all freehand. To make the design stand out when viewed from the air, he plants four to five rows of corn on each side of the path. Then he mows the path when the corn first comes up, keeping stubble to a minimum so the path is easy to walk.

“You can tell exactly what it will look like as soon as it comes up,” Lloyd says. “That design is actually planted in the field.”

He says this year’s theme was especially tricky since the wind turbines were so tall — 200 feet for each leg and 100 feet for the blades. Family and neighbors will be on hand to help guide visitors through the challenging maze.

While it seems life on a working dairy farm would be challenging enough, the Gunters don’t mind the extra work put into the farm experience they offer. “It’s work,” Lloyd acknowledges. “We are tired at the end of the day. But any job would have that. We just hope we can make them happy when they leave.”

The farm festivities start Sept. 26 and continue through Oct. 31. The farm is open 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday until 9 p.m. and on Sunday after 1 p.m. Lloyd and Jane can arrange special weekday visits for groups. Admission is $5 per person or $4 each for groups of 20 or more. For more information call 417-589-6845 or 417-533-8009. More details can be found at www.gunterfarms.com.

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