Corn maze promotes ‘Right Choices’
SOUTHWEST CITY, Mo. — Galen Manning, his wife Barbie and their staff promote a different right choice each year at Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Southwest City. This year’s right choice is church attendance, and the maze is in the shape of a church, Manning said.
He explained how he got into this business. He grew up on the 600-acre farm on which the maze is located. He was a member of the fifth generation on the farm. He studied agriculture in college but ended up, in 1977, going to work for Walmart and getting into management when the company still had fewer than 200 stores. He retired from Walmart in 2005, was 49 years old and didn’t owe any money, and could afford to go into full-time farming, he said. He had visited a corn maze and enjoyed it.
“I wanted to do something that I could leave behind me that could have a positive effect for my children, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren,” he said.
He said he had many stories from his days at Walmart as well as personal stories, so he wrote a book. He took his stories and attached each one to a Scripture passage and researched the Scriptures’ original meaning in Hebrew or Greek. The book is called “Make Right Choices,” and it is a Bible study book. From there, he got the name for his corn maze. It opened in 2006.
His brother Gary retired at the same time, and he partnered with him. They restored the barn, which had been on the property since the late 1860s, did some basic things and every year kept adding to it. Barbie is retired now, as well, and she also helps quite a bit, he said.
Last year the farm hosted 7,000 children on field trips and 20,000 total attendance, Manning said. They are open six weeks a year. This year, they opened Sept. 22 and will close Oct. 28.
“Every month of the year we’re doing something related to the corn maze,” he said.
For example, they pick the design of the maze in January. They have joined an organization in Utah called The Maize that helps them form the maze. He plants the corn in June or July. The corn is planted in a grid pattern. Then, when the corn is about a foot tall, The Maize comes and flags where the paths are going to be and sprays the corn that is to be eliminated. Then Manning and his crew mow it down.
Asked what he enjoys about the corn maze business, Manning said, “I enjoy the public, the people. I get to see old friends, people I used to work with. If people come from a long distance to visit, people bring them to the maze.”
He enjoys the agriculture part of the job, he added. Growing pumpkins is his favorite part because it is a challenge; growing corn is easy, he said.
In addition to the corn maze and picking pumpkins, visitors to the farm may enjoy a hayride pulled by an antique tractor from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. The Mannings also have a road grader that pulls a hayride, Manning said. Hayrides, which go through the woods on the property, are one of the most popular attractions. There are several other activities, including a corn cannon, a corn box (instead of a sandbox), a jumping pillow and cow train — 20 barrels painted like cows pulled through the cornfield by a tractor.
“Everyone’s always happy,” Manning said of his visitors. “It’s a fun place to come to. People come pretty long distances to come to our corn maze. A man called from California one time because he was coming to visit his mother and he always times it when the corn maze is open.”
“It’s exciting,” Manning said regarding the success of his business. “I feel like I got in on the early days of Walmart and I got in on the early days of the corn maze. This corn maze organization was only about 10 years old when we got in on it.”
He said he hired 90 people to help run the business this year.
Manning said people have suggested putting in zip lines or doing a haunted corn maze. He said he is not against those things, but he is going to stick to the basics. He wants it to feel like visitors are coming to Galen and Barbie’s farm, he said. Also, he wants it to have a wholesome, overtly Christian atmosphere, which is evident from the cross on the barn.
“We’re promoting right choices because right choices produce right results. We’re trying to stay with right choices and an appreciation for agriculture. The appeal is to get back to the simple, country life and to get away from all the stuff that keeps us all busy every day.”
Galen Manning, owner of Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, shows off some of his pumpkins.