by Danielle Beard
Parsons, Kansas —
With the temperatures starting to cool off, some much needed rain hitting the four states, and leaves preparing to change colors, it’s beginning to look like fall is going to arrive after all.
As the holiday season approaches, families could be looking for a way get into the spirit and celebrate the ending of a hard summer. That family fun can be found at Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch.
Right Choices is located on the 600 acre 7th generation Manning family farm nestled in the Ozarks near Southwest City, Missouri.
After retiring from Walmart, Galen Manning, one of the founders of Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, said he wanted to do something meaningful.
He decided to write a book. Over the next four years he compiled 52 “right choices,” from there he broke each of them down into research and matched them with scriptures from the Bible, and then used stories to illustrate each of the 52 right choices.
Manning’s goal for the book, Make Right Choices, was to help people understand the role they play in their own success and failure.
The idea for the corn maze followed after the publishing of the book.
“My wife and I visited a corn maze and thought, this is something we could do,” Manning said.
After visiting corn mazes across the country to learn how to successfully establish their own, they joined the World’s Largest Corn Maze Association.
From there the idea took off, Manning, along with his brothers set forth to start creating Right Choices Corn Maze.
“We wanted to tie the message of the book to the maze,” Manning said. “Just as it takes right choices to walk through a maze, it takes right choices to walk through life.”
The Manning family wanted their corn maze to reflect their Christian faith and be a place families, and people of all ages to come and have fun.
Along with exploring the seven acre corn maze, visitors can take a two mile hay ride through the woods and along the Elk River, pick pumpkins from a pumpkin patch, ride the cow train, play on the inflatable cow jump, shoot the corn cannon, walk through the farm animal zoo, play pumpkin ball, horse shoes, or slide on the hill and roller slides.
With a good portion of their activities being geared towards children it’s no surprise Right Choices’ largest customer base is families with children. However, Manning says their other demographics may be surprising.
“Most people hear corn maze and think we get large groups of teenagers,” Manning said. “When in reality our largest group is customer’s with children, our second is churches and church groups, and then third is teenagers.”
On the farm, visitors can also buy a variety of goods all produced locally and at reasonable prices.
“I believe in keeping prices reasonable,” Manning said. “I don’t want this to feel like a carnival, it’s a farm and I want it to feel like a farm.”
This year, for the seventh season, Right Choices Corn Maze will join forces with Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm.
Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm is owned and operated by Manning’s daughter Charity Keith and her husband Jon Keith.
Even though this is the first year for the farm to sell Christmas trees, this is a process that has been many years in the making.
“It’s been eight years since we planted the first Christmas trees,” Charity Keith, owner of Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm said. “Since dad’s corn maze began
seven years ago, I like to joke that
my project began first.”
Keith says the idea of a Christmas tree farm came from her love of gardening.
“I love to garden, and I love to farm, and I wanted to find how I could do both in a way that would fit me,” she explained.
She became involved with the Missouri Christmas Tree Association and learned from there.
The farm will offer Scotch pines ready in the field to cut as well as pre-cut Frasier Fir trees that are being imported in.
Ozark Valley Christmas Tree farm has also teamed up with Christmas Spirit Foundation’s Trees for Troops program, which provides Christmas trees for military families stationed in the U.S. and overseas.
Along with Christmas trees the farm will be making and selling wreaths. One dollar of every wreath sold will go to the newly opened Anne Croxdale Memorial Library in Southwest City to purchase books for the children’s reading room.
With the grand opening of Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm, Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch is working to help promote the new addition.
“The theme of this year’s corn maze is keeping Christ part of Christmas, “ Manning said.“ It ties in with what we stand for as well as helping to get the word out about the Christmas tree farm.”
With all the excitement surrounding the opening of this year’s corn maze and Christmas tree farm, many may be curious how the drought has effected those in the agritourism industry.
“We irrigate our corn every five days after we’ve put the seed in the ground,” Manning said. “So we didn’t have any problem with our corn crop this year.
Manning explained the problem they did face was deer in the pumpkin field.
“I started noticing a few damaged pumpkins,“ he said. “Then I noticed more everyday. The deer were eating them, we lost a thousand or more pumpkins.”
Trying to find a way to get rid of the deer proved to be difficult, he explained.
“I researched it on the Internet, and found a peppermint mix you could put on the pumpkins that wouldn’t hurt them, but would keep the deer away, and it worked, but then the deer moved onto eating the gourd crop instead,” Manning added.
For Keith the effects of the drought for the last two summers have hit her trees hard.
“Last year I planted 600 seedlings, and I lost 598,” she said. “This year I planted 100 seedlings and I lost all of them.”
Despite two years of significant loss, she remains positive.
“I’ve always planted Scotch Pines, next year I will be planting Virgina Pines, which grow much faster and should withstand the weather better then Scotch Pines,” Keith explained.
It is her hopes by switching Christmas tree types she will be able to make up for the two years loss.
While the drought has set both Manning and Keith back slightly they have both found ways to overcome this obstacle.
Manning says the people who come out to the farm make it all worth while.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Keith said. “We love to see the kid’s happy faces and the people who you can tell are just so excited to be out here.”
Right Choices Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch opened Sept. 29 and runs through Nov. 3. Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm opens Nov. 23 through Dec. 23. For more information visit www.rightchoicecornmaze.com or www.ozarkvalleychristmas.com.£