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The path to adventure

A lot of people venturing to Otter Berry Farm this fall are going to end up getting lost soon after they arrive, which is exactly why they will be making the trip.

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Cordell and Kris Huebsch have designed a maze in six acres of corn on their Otter Berry Farm near Rush Lake and plan to have it open this fall for the first time. Courtesy photo

A lot of people venturing to Otter Berry Farm this fall are going to end up getting lost soon after they arrive, which is exactly why they will be making the trip.

Like some of their pumpkin patch vines, Kris and Cordell Huebsch, owners of Otter Berry Farm, are stretching out. They want to get an "Agritourism" business off the ground.

Brainstorming new ideas is kind of a winter past time at Otter Berry Farm, located south of Perham a few miles east of Highway 78 on St. Lawrence Drive.

As the name of their farm indicates, the couple grow berries in the summer. The strawberry season is over, but the raspberries will soon be ready. There is also a large pumpkin patch.

"We kick around these ideas like 'what else can we do? What would be fun? What would our kids like to do?'" Kris said. "We tend to do a ton of research. We talked about a corn maze for a while."

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They both liked the idea of diversifying because farming is all they have been doing. One hail storm at the wrong time and their income can take a major hit.

Back in January, they decided a corn maze was the way to go.

The Otter Berry Farm Corn Maze is situated on a six-acre patch of corn that was not irrigated this summer. Even without irrigation, the corn plants are seven feet high.

Around the first week of July, it was time to build the maze. The stalks were still green and tender, and by using a larger mower they were able to design their maze.

"We mowed it off when the patch was about a foot tall," Cordell said.

Seen from the air, the maze is an intricate one with many false trails to confuse those who venture into it.

Getting the word about their new venture has been underway for some time. The couple is very serious about marketing.

"When we had our strawberry season we had a lot of foot traffic, so we were advertising then as well," Kris said.

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The maze will be open Saturdays and Sundays beginning Sept. 8, and the plan is to remain open for business through Oct. 28.

"We'll start there, and if we have enough demand and a lot of people we would probably do a Friday afternoon and evening also," Kris said. "MEA weekend we'll probably be open extra because the kids are out of school."

Running a berry farm is hard work, Cordell and Kris know all about that. How much work a corn maze will be to run is something they expect to find out.

"I would assume they have their own large amounts of labor involved but in different ways," Kris said. "With our strawberries, we have a peak season where we need extra help to pick the strawberries. People buy pre-picked, and we can't pick them all, so we have help come out for that."

The corn maze shapes up as a different type of challenge.

"We plan to have a lot of activities and games and farm animals to see," Kris said. "With an influx of people at the farm, it's one of those things where you still need labor and people here to guide people, direct traffic. We'll need to go back out and cut the maze again and keep the paths clean so it's just different. It's not just 'plant the corn and come to our house,' there is tons of planning involved and set-up."

Visitors will have signs to go by before they even enter the maze giving them options, like the use of an old-school paper map instead of their smartphone. Inside the maze, they will have games of trivia and 10 different checkpoints.

"So if you go along and you get to a sign that says 'You made it to No. 1', then you could refer to your map," Kris said. "At that point you could keep going and wander or there would be a trivia question 'do pigs fly?' Yes, turn left, no turn right. You answer it wrong, and it sends you down the wrong way, and you wind up at a dead end, but if you answer it correctly you keep meandering, and you end up at Checkpoint No. 2."

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Kris said the maze will also be interactive and based online with GPS.

"If you had a smartphone with you could go to our website; it'll come up Otter Berry Farm, and it'll say 'Here you are', and there is your little beacon... and if you want you can walk yourself through the maze or you can shut that part off. It can be as high tech as you want it to be or as low tech."

The maze is tailored to what a person might choose to do.

"Some people are more comfortable with being lost in seven-foot corn, and other people want a safety net here, so I know I'm not going to be lost for days," Kris said.

The maze is also set up into two phases. If a person gets halfway and they decide they have had enough, they can take a certain turn and quickly find the exit. It is an option that might appeal to families with little children. If they are having too much fun to quit they can go on.

Cordell has been in contact with the owners of a couple different food trucks, so if their guests get hungry they can find some nourishment.

"We're going to have a miniature straw bale farm maze for the small kids; we're going to have some farm animals for kids to see and pet, and we're going to have some farm equipment for kids to check out," Cordell said.

Pumpkins and gourds will also be for sale. Early visitors to the farm may be able to buy some raspberries.

Schools have shown an interest in setting up a field trip to Otter Berry Farm. Cordell said they would also be interested in entertaining private groups on days other than the weekends.

A lot of people are already charged up about the opportunity. Corn mazes are scarce in western Minnesota.

"I was kind of shocked when we put a picture up on our website and our Facebook page how many people got so excited about it....the demand and the amount of people who shared and the phone calls we started getting," Kris said.

Cordell likes the idea of giving people a fresh incentive to come to the area in the fall.

"I think it is good for the area," said Cordell. "Fall is a great time of the year in this part of the country, and there is just not the activities to bring people back to their cabins."

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