Creating a corn maze is no easy task, especially one that will attract thousands of visitors from all over the New York Metropolitan Area and offer something totally unique each fall. Since 2001, the Ludlow family has done exactly that at their popular Fairview Farm at Mecox Corn Maize in Bridgehampton—every year carving a brand new, thoughtfully configured design into eight acres of healthy corn stalks—but none of it comes without much debate and consideration.
“The more we do, the more of a challenge it becomes to come up with something that we really like that we haven’t done before,” 35-year-old farmer Nathan Ludlow says, describing how he and his family chose this year’s intricate and impressive surfer design. “It’s a group effort,” he adds, noting that these discussions go for quite some time before the task of physically making the maze even begins.
“Usually, someone has an idea that we all like and we run with it. My mother [Barbara] is the artist in the family, so we come up with a general idea for what it should be and she does a few sketches and looks at them, and eventually it starts to take a little more of a concrete form,” he explains.
His father, Fairview Farm patriarch Harry Ludlow, says, “The family has a discussion to see if anyone is inspired as to a striking concept or theme. Usually we pattern it after our family or the farm or the community, but we’re not bound to those rules, so we have these discussions off and on informally, whether it’s at the dinner table, whether it’s riding in the car somewhere, whether it’s hanging out at the beach—whatever it is. And we look at the world scene and see if anything is moving. There are all kinds of things we can do. We try to keep away from controversial subjects, religious, political or anything that’s narrow.”
“People come to have good, clean fun. You can’t put everything in every picture—it has to be recognizable,” Nathan adds. “We finally settled on a wave, a surfer, a starfish and a marine mammal,” he continues, pointing out with a chuckle that they can’t seem to agree on whether the creature at the bottom of this year’s maze design is a dolphin, a whale or possibly even a shark.
Once they’ve finally agreed upon a design and Barbara has drawn up her sketches, the Ludlows send their ideas to a consulting company called The Maize Inc. “They ‘mazify’ it,” Nathan says. “We send them just a concept sketch and they add in all the paths this way and that to make sure that it’s a good maze to do and not just a pretty design—they make sure the paths end up somewhere and come back to where they need to.”
For 19 years now, the design is always different, but the Ludlows require certain things in every maze. “One is, we always put two bridges in the maze for the great overview or aerial, and the second is, we always make two phases, so when they mazify our concept sketch, they always have two entrances and two exits. It’s two individual mazes in one,” Harry says, noting that all their mazes have these things.
“That way they can take a break in the middle if they want or, if they decide mazes aren’t really their thing, they only have to do part of it,” Nathan says.
Past design themes have included a seedling, a tractor, a horse and rider, lighthouse, honeybee, duck, slow food snail, chicken, two ears of corn, their dog Coda when she was a puppy, their farm stand table, a pair of pumpkins, legendary plant breeder Luther Burbank, two years of pigs and, last year, the number 100 (to commemorate Harry’s mother’s 100th birthday and the centennial anniversary of their house moving from Sagaponack to Bridgehampton).
When everything is approved and set, The Maize Inc. sends their “mazified” plans back to the Ludlows, early enough so the farmers can layout the entire design while the corn is still low. After it’s cut and the paths are in place, the stalks grow to about 12 feet tall, making it impossible for maze walkers to see out of the dense growth. But visitors can get a little help by answering trivia questions at certain points in the maze. A correct answer will reveal which direction they should follow next. An incorrect answer will send them the wrong way.
For those who don’t enjoy corn mazes, or who have issues with claustrophobia—a real problem in the tall corn with no exit or entrance in sight—the Ludlows offer other fun activities. Visitors can shoot ears of corn from a pneumatic corn cannon and attempt to hit a target, pick pumpkins or enjoy food items at the main tent. It’s good fall family fun in and outside the cornfield.
The Fairview Farm at Mecox Corn Maize is open weekends and Jewish holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through November 10. Learn more at fairviewfarmatmecox.com.