Lost in the maze

By Dom Cioffi

Autumn is upon us and with it comes a host of seasonal activities – one of the most popular being the annual trek to the apple orchard.

When I was a child apple picking meant picking apples. It meant driving to a hillside orchard, pulling your car directly into the aisles, climbing a few trees, filling up a bushel basket with one or two varieties of fruit, and then driving home.

That, however, is not the case today.

Apple picking has slowly become a multifaceted event. Sure, people still pick apples, but these days there are huge crowds looking for a variety of experiences. For entrepreneurial orchard owners, that can translate into a big business with a big payout.

For starters, many orchards now offer up to 75 varieties of apples, with different species ripening between mid-August and mid-November. That makes for some creative cooking if you’re a chef interested in unique flavor combinations.

Back in the day, you might have run into a chicken or two when paying for your apples, but now most visits to the orchard include a petting zoo with goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, cows and any number of other furry creatures that don’t mind crowds or being fed for 10 straight hours.

Food and other seasonal delicacies like apple butter and cider doughnuts are another sure way that orchard owners cash in on their harvest. The line at the last orchard I visited had a 45-minute wait for cider doughnuts and that didn’t let up for the entire three hours I was there.

Other activities include hay sculptures for climbing, face painting, art and crafts sales, pumpkin carving and scarecrow stuffing stations.

But my personal favorite when visiting these modern-day agricultural events is the corn maze.

There were no official corn mazes around when I was a child. However, I was lucky enough to have two uncles who operated dairy farms. I spent many hours wandering through my uncles’ corn fields, always enamored with the clandestine nature of the activity.

You could be only two rows deep into the cornfield and be virtually invisible to someone passing by on a bike. Now I’m not saying I ever chucked an old tomato at a passing car from one of these secretive spots, but it sure would have made for an easy getaway if I had.

Nowadays, corn maze builders plan far in advance of autumn when conceptualizing how they might confuse visitors who dare to enter one of these natural labyrinths. Many times there are themes to their designs that make the end product not only a fun activity, but also a true artistic expression.

I took my son and my nephew into a corn maze this

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