PLANT CITY – As temperatures soared in the 90s and families sought relief in backyard pools, the Futch family of Plant City was focused on fall, making plans for the second annual Fox Squirrel Corn Maze.
Months before the Oct. 12 opening date of the corn maze, fifth-generation Plant City rancher Carson Futch and his brother, Wayne, planted 5 acres of sweet sorghum to be transformed into the maze.
“Corn crops don’t do well in Florida so we use sorghum as a substitute,” explained Carson Futch.
When the sorghum reached heights of 12 feet tall, the brothers retrieved their lawn mowers and created paths through the crop based on plans drawn up by a landscape architect friend that included crop circles visible from planes flying overhead.
While the brothers created the maze, other Futch family members organized games, a country store and a pumpkin patch for the thousands of guests expected to visit the ranch at 3002 N. Charlie Taylor Road between Oct. 12 and Nov. 3.
“We all do our part to make this a success,” said Wayne’s wife, Denise Futch, who is in charge of turning a screened-in pavilion into a country store and recruiting vendors to sell antiques, homemade jams and jellies, country arts and crafts, cane syrup, local honey, pumpkins and gourds.
“Everybody in the family plays a role,” said Carson Futch. “Even my 14-year-old son, Connor, is making corn-hole boards to sell.”
Generations in the making
Lured by the promise of 16 acres of free land to anyone who homesteaded in Florida, the Futch family relocated from south Georgia to Hillsborough County in 1845. By the 1920s, the cattle and citrus ranch had grown to 2,000 acres.
Today, the ranch encompasses 300 acres of mostly strawberry fields. However, Carson Futch, a University of Florida agriculture major, said farming continues to play a vital role in Hillsborough County.
“Farming remains one of Hillsborough County’s key generators of income,” he said, noting that 34 percent of the county’s land is still decided to farming. A recent study by the Hillsborough County Agriculture Task Force found that agriculture contributes $1.5 billion to Hillsborough County’s economy each year.
“That’s one of the reasons we decided to host this event,” said Futch. “We want to educate people, especially young people, about the importance of agriculture in our county. Plus, it’s just a fun fall event for the whole family.”
More than 7,000 people attended last year’s inaugural Fox Squirrel Corn Maze, and the Futch family is expecting a bigger crowd this year.
“We’d love to have 10,000 or 15,000 people visit,” said Futch.
What to expect
The maze, which contains clues and a riddle to solve at the end, takes about 30 minutes to navigate.
“A lot of families will divide into teams and compete to be the first through the maze,” Futch said.
The festival also will feature three tractor-pulled hayrides around the ranch where visitors can observe wild turkeys, deer and the ranch’s native fox squirrels. In addition, the event will offer duck races, corn-hole tournaments, horseshoe tournaments, pony rides, a petting zoo, a butterfly encounter, a corn box for toddlers to play in, live country and folk music, and demonstrations of Florida cracker skills such as caning chairs, popping cow whips and roping steers.
In between activities, visitors can chow down on barbecue sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, shaved ice, corn on the cob, kettle corn and boiled peanuts.
“It’s a lot of work to put on, but it’s also a lot of fun,” said Futch. “We consider this to be our ministry to the community.”
The Fox Squirrel Corn Maze runs each Saturday and Sunday from Oct. 12 to Nov. 3 beginning at 10 a.m. with gates closing at 5 p.m. Fridays are reserved for pre-arranged school field trips, Scout troops, church groups and other organizations. Groups of 20 or more receive a discount.
Entry to the corn maze is $10 for visitors age 18 and up, $9 for kids age 3 to 17 and free for kids 2 and under.
For details, visit www.FoxSquirrelCornMaze.com.