More than 6,000 people travel to Farmland Adventures
Everybody loves corn mazes, hot dogs, pig races and other fall celebrations. Farmland Adventures, 2 miles east of Springdale, Ark., elevates the fun experience to an educational level much appreciated by area schools. About 6,000 youngsters a year travel by bus from all over Northwest Arkansas and Northeast Oklahoma for a much-loved field trip.
Students receive three “mini lectures” on the corn cycle, the pumpkin cycle and animals. These informational sessions are broken up by fun activities such as a wagon ride, feeding cows tortillas and watching pumpkins hurled at a distant dead tree by a homemade catapult.
The idea for Farmland Adventures began when Dwain and LuDonna Parsons’ children wanted a corn maze. All for family togetherness and anything to do with agriculture, the family visited one nearby. When Dwain got home, he told his wife, “We can do this. It won’t be that big of a deal.”
“She reminds me of those words often,” Dwain added with a laugh. Dwain’s original plan was to continue working for the city of Fayetteville in the water and sewer department and coaching soccer. He thought he could do the corn maze work on Saturdays. LuDonna told him he was wrong, and she was right. Now he neither works for the city of Fayetteville nor coaches soccer because the attraction and farming take all his time.
“We had never grown anything but grass,” he said. “And just to prove how right my wife was, even when we started seven years ago, I didn’t have the time to plant and care for the corn. That task fell to my then 15-year-old son Trey.”
Because Trey was homeschooled, as were all of the Parsons’ eight children, scheduling flexibility allowed time for Trey, who is graduating with an engineering degree in the spring of 2018, to tackle the task.
Dwain is the third generation on their farm. He was raised on this cow/calf and horse farm. Once the decision to develop a maze was made, the process began with setting aside 55 acres for the attraction.
Dwain soon found a valuable mentor in Hugh McPherson who was a Pennsylvania member of Maze Quest, an organization who develops maze themes and related items for corn maze attractions. The Parsons are now members as well with this year’s theme featuring a corn maze in the shape of a medieval castle with a knight and his lance. Other themes have been the Wild West and African Safari.
The most important piece of advice Dwain received from Hugh was that location was far more important than ground quality. Fortunately, Dwain already had a good location on the family farm and enough flatland to hold the entire attraction.
Growing corn in Arkansas is far from common with maze techniques differing from traditional ones. The species of corn was selected by a Missouri dealer. The first task in the spring is to pick up rock, not surprising in Northwest Arkansas. The field is then plowed and disked because cows are turned into the field after the attraction season to eat the corn and break up the stalks so winter can begin the decomposition process. Nitrogen is then applied, and seed is sown in both directions. When the corn is a foot tall, Maze Quest lays out both the half-acre mini maze and the full-sized 10-acre maze using GPS.
Pumpkins are grown in a field near the mazes. The Parsons started with 13 varieties but now raise Jack-o-lantern, which is a typical carving pumpkin, a white pumpkin called Cinderella and a mini species named Baby Boos. Pumpkins are available for sale either already picked or self-selected from the field.
Farmland Adventures offers a variety of activities that keep bringing people back. One youngster has celebrated five of his six birthdays at the attraction because he loves it so much. Dwain said, “About 50 percent of our business is repeat customers while the rest are new but often come because someone has recommended us.”
Pig races are a favorite with people of all ages as is the petting farm which contains typical livestock such as cows, pigs and goats as well as exotic animals including camels and alpaca among others. Additional interactions include pony rides, a wagon ride, large and small pedal carts with a tire-rimmed track to run on, a corn box, teeter totter, tire mountain and a human foosball court with concession food available.
Farmland Adventures opens the Friday after Labor Day and remains open until the first Saturday in November although the attraction is closed on Sunday.
“I may be the face of Farmland Adventures, but my whole family works,” Dwain said. “My 8-year-old daughter can already make change and sells pumpkins and animal feed. My wife does the books, publicity and scheduling which includes groups and camping space. Basically, each of us has a different role.”
Family help is supported by staff so that during peak season as many as 32 people are needed to man the attraction. All wear red staff shirts making them easy to spot and helping to creating a professional but friendly image. However, friendliness is more than an image supported by the fact that turnover in staff is very small. Workers, sometimes entire families, return year after year with one family contributing six children to the workforce.
“Well, we may not love each task, we all love the process and look forward to each season,” Dwain said.
Future seasons may see the additions of a gift shop, wedding chapel and meeting space.