The McGarrah family raises a variety of pumpkins and welcomes guests to a 16-acre corn maze
Although raising livestock and/or poultry is the most common agricultural land use in Northwest Arkansas, not everyone is in the animal business.
A example is Dennis E. and Timothea McGarrah and their daughter 4-year-old Hadley Jo.
The McGarrah family has 55 acres for fall agri-tourism, 30 acres of berries and 60 acres dedicated to raising landscape trees in addition to owning a mostly commercial fencing business called McGarrah Enterprises.
This year Ozark Corn Maze in Cave Springs, Ark., is open until Oct. 28 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with closing at dark. Ten thousand visitors enjoyed the wide variety of activities last year.
The previous owners of the maze reached out to the McGarrahs because Dennis’ father, Dennis C. McGarrah, had a similar successful operation in Pea Ridge. Timothea still works with Dennis C. by handling scheduling for his pumpkin patch and by managing the customer side of all the farms along with advertising and social media.
Recently the couple discovered greater cost efficiency by using Timothea as a full-time manager rather than paying someone else.
This year the maze was sponsored by Channel 5 whose logo is the largest of the three mazes in the 16 acres dedicated to them. The other two are their corn maze logo and a farm scene.
“Near closing, kids are often waiting by the exit for parents who are still finding their way through the mazes,” Timothea said with laugh. “The mazes, cut by Precision Mazes out of Lee’s Summit in Missouri, are difficult enough to be fun and interesting.”
Other creative activities occupy visitors of all ages with admission varying according to preferred activities. Some activities such as the corn cannon and pumpkin slingshot cost more because corncobs and pumpkin supplies must be grown and cared for as well as replenished daily.
The 20-acre pumpkin patch has a pick-your-own option with the attraction providing clippers and a wagon to make the process easier. Pumpkins range from miniatures such as Lunch Lady Gourds with each pumpkin unique in color, texture and shape. Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins typically run 8 to 10 pounds and include varieties such as Porcelain Dolls and Fairytales. Larger pumpkin varieties of 40 to 60 pounds include white Polar Bear pumpkins with Prizewinners as the largest species and weighing up to 200 pounds.
Other favorite activities are a hay ride, miniature donkey petting, a barrel train ride and a gourd tunnel with the sprawling vines cleared off the path as they climb up trellises shaped into a tunnel. A particular favorite with the youngest set is the 6-foot diameter corn pool with the little ones wanting to stay longer than the parents have patience.
As with any similar attraction, concessions are available and provided by outside vendors. Offerings include sandwiches, kettle corn, snow cones and sorbets.
“We put in that little extra work during the summer that offers visitors the best possible experience and couldn’t do that without the help of our troubleshooter Jerry McKinney who maintains our equipment and land and fills in wherever needed. We also strive to maintain a ‘Spic and Span, facility so everyone is comfortable participating in all activities,” explained Timothea.
The joint 30-acre berry “patch” contains strawberries, blueberries and some blackberries. Thirty thousand strawberry plants were set this fall in addition to the pre-existing blueberry and blackberry bushes, an indication of the density of berry production. The berries are pick-your-own as well as sold at two on site locations in addition to the Fayetteville and Bentonville farmers markets. Dennis is particularly fond of raising blueberries and may someday add dwarf apple trees and other fruits as he strives to become a full-time farmer.
The name of the McGarrah nursery is Instant Shade of Northwest Arkansas. The focus is transplanting trees up to 25 feet tall for both landscaping companies and individuals.
“Sometimes folks want a tree to provide shade for children’s’ swing sets just as we have done for Hadley Jo,” Timothea explained.
The company will begin selling their own trees this year because the relatively new nursery now has trees 12 feet to 15 feet tall. Tree types include pines, maples, oaks, dogwoods, red buds, spruce, Juniper and Heritage River Birch. If the McGarrahs don’t have what a customer wants, they purchase from other nurseries and then transplant the trees to the desired location.
New trees in the nursery are planted when a little larger than saplings and are irrigated with water from a large pond. Other special care includes fertilizing and spraying for insects such as bag worms as well as tilling around the trees to prevent other vegetation from stealing water and nutrition.
McGarrah Enterprises constructs fencing mostly for contractors and builders for use in locations such as subdivisions and commercial property. Types of fencing include wrought iron, privacy chain-link and three rail vinyl fencing, common on horse farms. This is a large volume operation that Dennis hopes will eventually take very little of his time as he moves toward full-time farming.
“Dennis is happiest working by himself on the farm while I prefer organization and interacting with others,” Timothea said.
The heart of the McGarrah operation is an annual cycle that provides reasonable time demands throughout the year. The berries dominate spring while the corn maze dominates much of summer and early fall when tree transplanting picks up speed. No trees are transplanted from May through September though care is year-round. The fencing business is also year-round with a busy season starting in early spring.
Obviously one of the joys of the McGarrah lifestyle is its diversity. The other is raising Hadley Jo and watching her corn maze visitors.