Washington

Corn maze, human foosball and haunted woods in your crop rotation? Maris Farms says yes

Buckley pumpkin patch sets sights on expansion

Buckley’s Maris Farms is growing its “agritainment” business by expanding its season to attract corporate and wedding clients.
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Buckley’s Maris Farms is growing its “agritainment” business by expanding its season to attract corporate and wedding clients.

It wasn’t always elaborate corn mazes, human foosball and haunted woods at Maris Farms in Buckley.

Owner Dale Maris at one time was a dairy farmer.

Back then, Maris said, “There weren’t many options in Buckley. ...The guy I was working for, he had a house, nice car, seemed like he lived OK, so I said let’s do that, let’s be a dairy farmer.

“But it doesn’t work.”

So Maris and his family embarked on a path that led them into “agritainment.”

What started in 1995 as a two-acre pumpkin patch to help deal with all the cow manure has grown into a million-dollar enterprise that employs hundreds in-season and is visited by thousands of people each year.

Earlier this year, Maris was recognized by University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business Leaderships Awards for the transition from farming to agritainment.

“Somebody forgot to tell me it couldn’t be done, so I did it,” Maris said in the UWT video shown at the ceremony. “In 2000 (the agritainment industry) did not exist.”

Things really took off in 2000 when they decided to add a corn maze at their farm. That maze, a rendering of Mount Rainier, stood on land that is now one of three parking areas on the family’s current 40-acre site at 25001 Sumner-Buckley Highway.

According an online biography, Maris joined with his sister, Joanne Templeman, brother-in-law Steve Templeman and mother, Kay, to form Maris Maze, LLC in 2000.

“The transition was gradual as Dale was phasing out his dairy business and was supplementing with raspberry business in the summer,” Steve Templeman recalled. “We started the pumpkin patch on our homestead property in 1995 just as a site where Dale could bring his cow manure from his dairy business. The raspberries took off, and we decided to use another portion of that land for a pumpkin patch. The pumpkin patch grew to the point where, in 1999, Dale asked if we might be interested in moving the patch to his property because he was going to get out of the dairy business. He had heard about this “maze craze” trend and said we should bring the pumpkin patch over and start up a corn maze.”

A few years later, they added the haunted woods. Dairy farming quickly became a thing of the past for the family.

Steve Templeman explains: “For Dale, it was a realization that he could not make it in the dairy business any longer with all of the costs related to regulations and the continuing devaluation of what dairy farmers could get for their milk.”

While their agritainment venture started to take off, It didn’t all go smoothly.

“We still had dairy cows on the property that first season in an area that was blocked off to the public — lots of cow manure everywhere. No way we’d get away with that today!” Steve Templeman recalled.

One year the corn for the maze grew only 4 feet tall, and elk sometimes got into the pumpkin patch.

But with those setbacks came valuable agritainment lessons.

Their site since has become a massive operation, with 220 employees working through October to make sure it all runs smoothly. Their pumpkin patch is now more than 8 acres, supplemented by other harvest sites they own, fenced against those curious elk.

The corn maze takes on a new theme each year — this year, “The Wizard of Oz.” They draw inspiration from an annual corn-maze convention they attend.

“The conference is 200 guys just like Dale talking about things they’ve seen at other attractions,” Joanne Templeman said, chuckling.

The haunted woods now has more than 35 sets and 50 actors inhabiting a 35-minute trail through a 2-acre cornfield and 2-acre forested area.

This year: “We have a prison theme, Mad Max theme and we’ve added a whole new section called Butcher Holler,” said Mike Meeks, who runs the woods. “Emphasis on butcher.”

Maris says they’ve made up the business plan as they go along.

“Dale is the idea guy,” said Joanne Templeman. The challenge, she noted, is not spending all their profit on that creativity.

Among the other attractions listed on its website for this year: jumping pillow, tube slide, ziplines, pedal carts, animal barn, hayrides, human foosball.

“That was my idea,” Joanne Templeman said about the foosball. “I saw it on Facebook.”

According to Steve Templeman, the farm now sees “around 20,000 visitors for daytime activities; 17,000 for nighttime activities; and 3,000 for field trips.”

Dale Maris says if you visit, come early in the season and plan to spend half the day to experience all the attractions. Joanne Templeman offered a sample “perfect” schedule for visitors.

“Come at 3 p.m. for the duck race. Then there’s the pig race, then do the corn maze and then the haunted woods,” she said.

For food, Maris Farms will be offering an expanded menu. They just made their way through their sample tastings recently to decide what made the final cut, according to Templeman.

“Corndogs, sandwiches, a barbecue sandwich, really good burgers, briskets, plow boy, a ‘filly’ cheese steak,” she said, confirming that “filly” is spelled with an ‘F.’

What’s next? Event rentals. They’ve already hosted one wedding and are taking reservations now for next July/August for corporate picnics, weddings, and other events. They also host field trips from schools, preschools and day cares during the week.

What do they do in their down time in the winter? That’s the time for everything not agritainment related.

“We get caught up on life,” Joanne Templeman said.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell

If you go

Season passes and individual tickets are available for the farm on site and online: marisfarms.com.

Daily hours

Monday through Friday, 1-6 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

After dark/haunted woods dates and times:

Sept. 29, Oct. 5-6, 7-9 p.m.

Oct 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, 7-10 p.m.

Oct 14, 21, 28: 7-9 p.m.

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