For Monroe Township, New Jersey, farmer Caroline Etsch and her family, the most direct path to successfully diversifying the farm and expanding their revenue opportunities turned out to be a maze—a corn maze. Etsch, who grew up outside of New York City, married into agriculture and moved to her husband’s fourth-generation hay, straw and grain farm.
“About 12 years ago, my city friend recommended we do a corn maze,” Etsch explains. After a successful first year in 2005, Etsch and her family have continued to grow their agri-tourism venture.
With a new 8-acre corn maze design every year, Etsch gets a lot of repeat customers. Advertisements, an Etsch family farm train they run in local parades, social media, aerial advertising and word-of-mouth-recommendations ensure new visitors every year. Weekends in the fall the farm is open to the public, while the weekdays usually bring plenty of school children.
“Every third-grader in the town spends half a day at the farm, where I explain how the corn we grow fits into their lives,” Etsch noted.
Among the maze designs they’ve used are an Oregon Trail trading post, a pirate ship and a castle. In 2016, they commemorated Rutgers University’s 250th year. Each year, the Etsch family constructs an elaborate hay bale entrance to match the year’s theme.
While the corn maze is certainly the biggest attraction—in size and popularity—there’s plenty more to do and see at Etsch Farms. A connection with a talented painter resulted in the production of a corn Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Etsch Farms offers hayrides, corn train rides, a pumpkin patch, a Pumpkin Plinko game and more, while their Bakery Barn has fresh apple cider donuts, pies, hot chocolate and apple cider slushies. The Barn Shop’s wares include jams, mustards, preserves and fall decor.
The maze is a fall activity, but there’s plenty of action in July and August when Etsch Farms hosts outdoor movies. Among last summer’s movies were “Zootopia” and “Star Wars-The Force Awakens.” Farm Days for Kids brings children on the farm to learn first-hand about plants, animals and modern agriculture.