In ru­ral Illi­nois, fall means a trip through the corn maze.

A fam­ily out­ing to the lo­cal farm har­vests acres of happy mem­o­ries.


Two fun tra­di­tions ex­em­plify fall in ru­ral Illi­nois: corn mazes and pump­kin patches. Ev­ery week­end fam­i­lies head to a lo­cal farm to en­joy the sim­ple plea­sures of be­ing outdoors be­fore win­ter sets in. For our fam­ily, there’s no bet­ter way to spend an af­ter­noon than at Rader Fam­ily Farms in Nor­mal, Illi­nois. We put on old sweaters and shoes that don’t mind a lit­tle mud—it can get sloppy in those fields! The farm has been owned and op­er­ated by the same hard­work­ing fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions. The Raders started with dairy cows, then be­came grain farmers. Ten years ago, they added corn mazes and pump­kin patches. To­day they grow 12 acres for a corn maze, plus 30 acres of pump­kins and fall plants. The Rader fam­ily wants vis­i­tors to “har­vest mem­o­ries,” and they suc­ceed. Signs fea­tur­ing a friendly scare­crow point the way to the food, corn mazes and at­trac­tions. Vis­i­tors set out with a map to lo­cate the sta­tions within the maze. Lost? Call the num­ber on the map and the “corn cops” will find you! It’s easy to spend a few hours in­side the ac­tiv­i­ties area, which in­cludes a straw cas­tle, tire tow­ers, corn ker­nel “sand­boxes,” pump­kin check­ers and a huge jump­ing pil­low made for bounc­ing. Vis­i­tors can shoot at tar­gets with a corn blaster. Kids un­der 6 love the Lit­tle Vil­lage, where farm an­i­mals and equip­ment teach about coun­try life. The farm also has a 1951 pickup truck for a photo op. We al­ways stop for fresh cider. Then it’s on to the pump­kins! While they’re al­ready piled high for cus­tomers to eas­ily browse and pur­chase, many folks pre­fer to pick their own, pulling a wagon into the pump­kin patch. Some­how these pump­kins seem more col­or­ful— and much more mem­o­rable—than those lined up at our su­per­mar­ket. There’s no rush here; ev­ery­one is al­lowed as much time as needed to choose the per­fect one. After­ward, we buy dec­o­ra­tive gourds and In­dian corn. And, some­times a dozen pump­kin dough­nuts and an ap­ple pie find their way into the bas­ket. The tem­per­a­ture is cool by the time we head home, and the sun sets ear­lier. For us, a day at the corn maze and pump­kin patch truly means au­tumn has ar­rived.

Clock­wise from top left: Aerial view of the corn maze; vin­tage Ford truck; a scare­crow greets vis­i­tors who fin­ish the maze; fun in the pump­kin patch.

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