The average U.S. farmer makes nearly $61,000 a year. That’s the median as last reported in 2010 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some make more, some less, but with all the farmers I have the opportunity to talk to, one thing is clear – most do not make enough money to properly grow their business, let alone send their kids to college.
So farmers like Mike Wissemann, in Sunderland Mass., are trying their hand at “second jobs” to bring in the cash. As reported on NPR, Mike’s 8-acre cornfield now includes picture-ready formed replicas of the Mona Lisa, Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali. This part of the farm is called Mike’s Maze and reportedly had almost 25,000 visitors last year at $12 a head (discounts for seniors and kids do apply). That's could amount to an extra $300,000 a year! And it turns out this is a big business for farmers.
Mike’s daughter-in-law, Jess, has designed the maze for the past two years. She studied art history in college and likes to use that background when she creates her designs in Adobe Illustrator. She sends that design, scaled to the cornfield, to Rob Stouffer, who owns Precision Mazes, based in Missouri. Stouffer cuts mazes all over America and charges between $2,500 and $6,000 for a maze. According to his website, precisionmazes.com, “If you're looking to develop an exciting and profitable attraction in your area, a corn maze just might be the right move”.
And these mazes are easier than you might think to execute. A GPS-equipped mower can zoom in on a single stalk within an inch. Add in a drone, and you've got yourself an elaborate maze. The design is plotted in the tractor’s GPS system and has reduced the time it takes to cut a maze from a month to a single day.
A drone sends video to the designer on the ground in real time, so they can zero in on which stalks need cutting to form the most accurate picture and use special fonts or to home in on the pupil of an eye.
At Treinen farm, in Lodi, Wis., designer Angie Treinen’s style this year for the 15-acre plot is based on the Japanese art style known as Kawaii, which means "cute. That translated to ninja kittens, cupcakes with faces, unicorns, narwhals and rainbows. Thie maze is cut and shaped entrirely by hand – no GPS here – and they report that 90 percent of the famr’s income comes from agri-tourism: the maze, the pumpkin patch and hay rides.