Over 150 years ago, Rex Larsen’s family started a ranch that has seen seven generations. Now, the Larsen family has opened their ranch to the public to celebrate autumn, but this year might be different.
Glen Ray’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, named after Larsen’s father, is a family project, from beginning to end.
Kara Lewis, Larsen’s oldest daughter and Glen Ray’s manager, moved back to Leland just outside of Spanish Fork in 2016. When she returned, she watched her father taking care of the family’s ranch and asked what the family could do to help.
“Kind of half jokingly, I said, ‘Well help me make more money,’” Larsen said. “My daughter took that as a challenge and set up a Google document for all of the family to put input in.”
Several ideas were thrown around in the web-based document, he said, and in the beginning nothing was off limits. If a member of the family thought about it, it was thrown into the list of potential projects.
At the end of it all, the idea that surfaced was an annual corn maze and pumpkin patch.
Larsen agreed to try, feeling confident in his ability to grow corn but having little understanding of how to cut the maze. In the early spring of 2017, Larsen cultivated the land and began planting corn to prepare for the coming fall, plowing out part of a hay field.
From there, Larsen and Lewis headed to the internet for help.
Larsen had never planted pumpkins, and having borrowed a friend’s seed planter to unsuccessfully begin the pumpkin-growing process, the 50-year farming veteran began using resources he found on the internet to adapt his corn seed planter for pumpkin seed.
With the corn and pumpkins successfully planted, the time came to cut a maze into the seemingly endless stocks that had since sprouted up from the ground. With no idea where to begin, Larsen again turned to the internet.
“The internet has all of the answers, I guess,” he chuckled.
That’s where Larsen discovered the idea of retrofitting a GPS system onto a zero-turn lawnmower.
The idea came from another farmer who had done the same thing when organizing his own corn maze. He would draw out what he wanted the maze to look like, program the GPS and hop on his lawnmower, following along to every twist and turn on the screen. Each year, Larsen does just that.
Since its first year, the simple corn maze and pumpkin patch has grown into a collection of autumnal attractions, including a corn pit, a petting zoo and an educational tent. Additionally, the family has added a haunted maze filled with actors ready to scare thrill seekers on the weekends.
“We start planning a month after we close,” Lewis said. “Lots and lots of work goes into it. We’re having the kind of situation right now where there’s so many unknowns, it just makes it so hard.”
Glen Ray’s was expected to open on Sept. 25 and run through Nov. 1, but Larsen is unsure if they will be permitted to open with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are really looking forward to doing it again this year, but decisions have to be made right now,” Larsen said. “Next week would be the time to plant the corn and the pumpkins in order for them to be in the right condition for them to be ready.”
On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state of Utah would be moving from the orange phase to the yellow phase effective Saturday at 12:01 a.m., with orange indicating “moderate risk” and yellow indicating “low risk.”
With the move to the yellow phase for most of the state, not including Grand, Summit and Wasatch counties, social gatherings can increase from 20 to 50 individuals.
“Certainly, we will comply, but we are hoping that we can get to green and have everybody come and see us,” Larsen said. “I think by then, everybody will be ready to get out of the house and experience something new and fun.”
If Glen Ray’s would not be permitted to reopen, he said it would be a huge loss, not just from a business perspective but also from a personal aspect, as well.
The seasonal project brings siblings and cousins together, working toward a common goal, he said. Additionally, Larsen’s grandchildren often use the opportunity to grow and reap crops for their Future Farmers of America projects.
Furthermore, he said, it would be a great loss to the community.
“We teach people that agriculture is still here,” Larsen said. “We’re strong and we’re viable. We let them feel and participate in what I call the miracle of agriculture.”
With so much development happening in Lewis’ hometown, she said she has seen a disconnect between Leland and its farming roots. Glen Ray’s offers generations young and old the opportunity to revisit the agricultural history of the city, Lewis said.
Additionally, of the roughly 14,000 people who come to enjoy the attractions each year, several are confused when Larsen hands them a pair of shears when they enter the pumpkin patch. Larsen said seeing people get excited about getting to harvest the pumpkin of their choosing off of its vine is one of his favorite parts of the project he embarked on three years ago.
“Even that small connection to agriculture is a real benefit and something we are now having families come back to enjoy and participate in,” he said.
Lewis also was able to secure funding through a women’s entrepreneurial grant to establish an educational tent where Glen Ray’s was able to bring 1,400 students to learn about how their food grows and where it comes from.
Larsen said he is counting on his fellow Utah County residents to use “good common sense and science” to move the county and state forward into the green phase.