INDEPENDENCE, MO. Beginning as a small farmers market in 1991, Carolyn's Country Cousins Pumpkin Patch has grown into an agritourism company, attracting more than 100,000 visitors each fall.
Buddy and Carolyn Raasch farm 8,000 acres of land in the bottoms of the Missouri River and have found that they enjoy sharing their passion for farming with the public.
"It's a family owned and operated business," site director Gieselle Fest said. "We are the oldest continuous-running pumpkin patch in the Kansas City area."
The 60 acres of pumpkins love the sandy loam found here in the bottoms, just south of Liberty, where you can pick your favorite pumpkin right off the vine.
Carolyn's Pumpkin Patch has grown to include an additional 15 acres of family entertainment areas, including a petting barn, a half-mile long train ride, full-service country cafe, snack shack and two gift shops.
"When our two oldest sons went away to college, we didn't expect them to become farmers," Carolyn said of Bernie and Errie, "but they did, and we are so thankful."
After receiving their master's and bachelor's degrees in agriculture, the sons returned home, bringing with them knowledge on technology and an idea of how to utilize 25 acres of the corn.
"They came up with the idea to make a maze within the cornfields," Carolyn said "and we told them OK as long as they would take care of running it."
For the fourth year in a row, the corn maze has drawn visitors from all over the state to test their skills of finding their way through an intricate design of 1 million square feet of cornstalks.
This year's maze challenge is a "Border Showdown," including the MU Tiger and KU Jayhawk logos along with the words "Border Showdown" cut out of the cornfield.
"Even though both boys graduated from Missouri, we told them that each school's maze had to be the same size," Fest said. So 1.5 miles of maze dedicated to each school.
The maze is 11.3 miles long and is divided into the Jayhawk, Tiger, Red and Gold sections.
The fancy maze design was not hand cut, which would have taken weeks to accomplish. A farmer from Firth, Idaho, cut the maze in just a day's time.
The Raasches hired Shawn Stolsworthy, owner of MazePlay, who makes a living traveling around the country from May through September cutting cornfields into elaborate designed mazes.
"It's amazing to watch how it's done," Fest said of the John Deere Tractor and GPS system that Stolsworthy uses. "It doesn't even have to be daylight - the computer tells him exactly where and when to turn and cut."
Partnering with Hy-Vee, Carolyn's Pumpkin Patch offers educational materials for their visitors on anything and everything you could ever want to know about pumpkins, soybeans and corn.
Fall Fun on the Farm, written and illustrated by Carolyn and Fest, tells readers the importance of farming the land through a coloring book.
"We have over 20,000 students come through each season," Fest said, "and we offer the teachers a free CD which has worksheets on corn, pumpkin recipes and soybeans, and it's available in Spanish, French, German and Chinese."
Wanting to educate on the days of mining, Carolyn's Pumpkin Patch has included Uncle Lester's Mining Camp, where the children are encouraged to dig for "gold" and are then helped to identify the rocks in the their bags of rough.