A fresh crop of fun

Tenant continues corn maze tradition on former Navy dairy land

September 17, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Raising a red flag — Out here, in the middle of a Gambrills cornfield, getting lost is the point. It's no fair to use a cell phone to seek an escape route. A GPS is out of the question.

Raising a red flag -- or more accurately, a red-white-and-blue one -- is a safety hatch, of sorts, for visitors to the corn maze created each fall at the former Horizon Organic Dairy and U.S. Naval Academy dairy farm.

MD Sunrise Farm LLC, which now leases the Navy property, has continued the autumn tradition, with the 11-acre labyrinth open to the public Friday through Sunday through Oct. 29.

"This is a way to reconnect with nature," said Marian Fry, a partner in MD Sunrise Farm. "Very few city or suburban people get close to corn, and think how much corn you eat."

Previous maze motifs, such as a cow driving a tractor near a barn, played on Horizon's logo. For Maryland Sunrise Farm's first community corn maze, it paid a Utah designer about $10,000 to depict Bill, the Navy mascot. Next to the giant goat, the words "Go Navy!" and the farm's name have been carved out.

The long, meandering path, about three miles, might take an hour or more. The other choice is a trail that can be walked in 20 to 30 minutes.

The "Go Navy!" message is intended to remind the public of the company's connection to its powerful landlord. And the maze is an apt symbol for the land on which it stands, the subject of community anxiety and contention.

For most of the 20th century, the farm supplied milk to the U.S. Naval Academy's brigade of midshipmen, but that role was phased out in the 1990s. While the Navy quietly considers what to do with the rolling, pristine 870 acres, required by law to remain rural and agrarian, the state stadium authority has proposed building a horse park on the property.

That prospect led to more focus on Maryland Sunrise Farm, the organic farming operation that became the interim tenant last year. Horizon Organic Dairy, which had previously run a corn maze, left the farm in 2004.

Pyotr Bocharov, 40, the farm's general manager, said soybean, corn and pumpkin crops are raised on the dairy farmland. In addition, he raises 164 heifers on its pastures. He said the maze is a good way to learn a little about agriculture. "We try to make some fun for [visitors]," he said.

There was one thing that he couldn't help noting, a difference between his native Russia and his adopted country: "Nobody in Russia will pay $7 to go through the corn."

It took one day, he said, to install the corn maze this summer.

Cornfield mazes, an agricultural art form meant to bring back a glimpse of living on the land, has become a rising trend in the last decade.

As summer falls into harvest time, walking a winding path through 10-foot-tall cornstalks -- billowing at their peak -- does something for the soul. It's like an instant trip to Iowa. The sun and the silence falling on the stalks, still ripe with ears of corn, contrast with the hectic buzz on nearby Route 3 and Interstate 97.

In these peaceful environs, Travis Ross, 17, stands on a wood bridge, scanning rows. In a maze, he says, a lookout post for those who get lost is a good idea. An American flag raised above the horizon, he said, is the signal to rescue a lost wanderer.

"I'm a corn cop," says Ross, a junior at Broadneck High School. "And I go when I see a flag sticking out."

Also acting as a lookout is Nikita Bocharov, 12, whose parents manage and live on the farm. As if to test the system, Dick Crane, a retiree in his 60s who lives in Arnold, raises a flag in the middle distance. The boys bring him back to the bridge within minutes.

"It's pretty daunting, 10 acres," Crane said. "I said, `Oh, my golly, I have to bring my granddaughter,' but I'm a little nervous about it. I'm feeling my years."

"Passports" are available to those who can't find their way out, but Aaron Milton of Pasadena didn't need one.

"We were never lost! I was the navigator," Milton, 32, said lightly as he, his wife, young son and some family friends emerged back at the beginning of the trail.

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

sunrise farm maze

Location:

The corner of Gambrills Road and Route 175.

When:

2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.

Admission:

$7 for adults, $4 for children ages 5 to 12 and $5 for groups of 10 or more. Military (with ID) $6.

Information:

410-923-1412.

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