Life down on the old farm isn’t what it used to be. Modern farmers are diversifying revenue streams, managing websites, posting social media and capitalizing on the public’s interest for a fun, farm destination experience. Just ask Michael Wissemann ’78, owner of the Warner Farm in Sunderland, MA. His annual corn field creation, Mike’s Maze, was just named the best corn maze in the country by Yahoo.com.
With a theme of Alice in Wonderland, this year’s maze spans eight acres and includes games, potato blasters and trivia challenges.
“Our experience is pretty unique,” says Wissemann. “It’s really about orienteering because you have to learn to read the map to find the stations and answer the questions.”
A new addition to Mike’s Maze is the Zombie Night Patrol, Flashlight Maze and Haunted Maze. “We realized last year that we need to make ourselves relevant to younger generations, so that’s when we added the zombies and nighttime activities.”
Wissemann’s first maze, based on the Massachusetts quarter, was created in 2000 with the help of artist friend Will Sillin. “I provide the palette and let the artists and creatives come up with the fun stuff,” Wissemann tells the Alumni Association. Other themes have included the Mona Lisa, Julia Child, The Odyssey, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can and Jean François Millet’s ‘The Sower‘.
The amazing designs are achieved by planting the corn in a grid system, mapping the design and removing the stalks with a mower and by hand for greater detail and precision.
“Each design took us to a different plateau,” notes Wissemann. “When we did Julia Child in 2006, all the foodies came out to go through the maze, which gave us a big jump that year.” Developing the business brand, online presence and communications has also been important to the farm’s success and in garnering national media attention.
A plant and soil science major with the College of Natural Sciences, Wissemann’s first farming enterprise focused on potatoes and pick-your-own strawberries. After purchasing the Warner Farm, he went on to diversify his crops to include sweet corn and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
In addition to general farming and the operation of Mike’s Maze, Wissemann also coordinates community supported agriculture (CSA) programs across Massachusetts. By partnering with major businesses, Wissemann provides farm shares directly to employees of TJX, HeartWare, Brandeis Univesity and Intel Corporation.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and have always been open to new ideas and ways of doing business,” says Wissemann. “Right now, there is resurgence in farming and in supporting local growers, which is exciting and I hope continues!”
By Elena Lamontagne