Sean Sullivan and his daughter at the sunflower patch at Washington Farms in Watkinsville, Georgia on Saturday, October 7, 2017. (Photo/Gracie Thompson).
Sean Sullivan watched as his daughter pushed an orange wheelbarrow full of pumpkins through a sunflower patch towards a little white check-out stand last Saturday.
The father/daughter duo to a farm in Watkinsville, Georgia on the first weekend in October for a very simple reason:
“Family fun,” said Sullivan.
The pair mirrored scenes all around Washington Farms in the humid mid-morning air as families and friends made their way out of their cars and into pumpkin patches, sunflower fields, and the largest attraction of the farm in the fall– the Northeast Georgia Corn Maze.
As soon as guests walk past their first “Cornundrum,” the signs scattered throughout the maze that feature corn-themed puns, they start to lose the sense that a few acres in either direction is a fully operational farm.
The eight and a half acre maze is made up of stalk after stalk of field corn, a crop with a coarser kernel than the sweet corn found at the dinner table.
While it’s unlikely a person will be chowing down on the corn harvested from the maze at the end of the season, the crop certainly doesn’t go to waste.
“We sell it to the University of Georgia,” said Donna Washington, co-owner of Washington Farms with her husband John, “and they feed their cows and pigs that. We’ve sold it to other farmers as well.”
In fact, according to Dave Hoisington, Director of the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab and Senior Research Scientist of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia, even if Washington Farms didn’t harvest their corn crop, the overall production impact would be slim.
“The amount of land that corn mazes are planted on is pretty minimal compared to the overall land that’s invested in growing corn in the U.S.,” said Hoisington.
While it may not be a remarkable corn producer, Washington Farms has become something else as the maze has grown in popularity– an educator.
“They can go to different parts of the farm to experience different things,” said Washington of the fall season.
One of those experiences is led by Washington herself, a former elementary school teacher, in the pumpkin patch guests can see from the entrance to the farm.
She talks students through the process of growing a pumpkin from the moment her husband, “Farmer John,” starts to prepare the soil for planting to actual harvest of the crop.
“Many people don’t understand where food comes from and the importance of proper production practices, so if [eco-tourist attractions] can be used as a mechanism to bring people out, see how crops are grown, and understand a little more about that side of food production, to me that would be a positive,” said Hoisington of the benefits of an operation like Washington Farms.
That is not the only positive, however, in the eyes of the Washington family.
“That’s what we love,” said Washington. “We love giving families and friends a place to come out for a fun time where you’re not in front of a screen. Wholesome. Outside. Breathing fresh air.”
In short, the only “cornundrums” the Washingtons want their guests to have are the signs hidden inside the corn maze.