Students from Milestones Academy in Jacksonville navigate a maze created of sorghum Friday at Garner Farms in Newport. They are among many area school groups to visit Garner’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch for the fall season. (Cheryl Burke photo)

NEWPORT — From hayrides through a pumpkin patch to navigating a corn maze, it was all about fun on the farm Friday for children from several area schools and child care centers.

The students were among nearly 2,000 scheduled to visit Garner’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch this fall to learn about life on a farm, as well as play games, climb a tire mountain, slip down pipe slides and dive into a pit filled with corn kernels.

The maze, a joint operation between Garner Farms, Garner’s Landscaping and The Plant Stand, blends fun with science lessons on the life cycles of plants, including pumpkins.

There’s also a petting zoo, where Jackie Garner allows children to pet her miniature goats.

The maze and pumpkin patch opened Sept. 29 and will remain open through Saturday, Nov. 2.

It’s only open to school groups during the week, but is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.

While it’s all in fun, Clayton Garner, owner of Garner Farms, said the property was also designed to teach students about farming operations, including growing seasons, crops and more.

“We want the kids to have fun with their parents and teachers while they learn,” Mr. Garner said.

Greg Garner, owner of Garner’s Landscaping and The Plant Stand, agreed.

“So many kids spend their time on computers and this is a way to get them out and learn about a working farm,” he said.

One of the highlights Friday was a hike through a 0.25-mile maze of tall stalks of sorghum, which is similar to corn. Interspersed along the trail were plaques that told the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk.

A second, 2.5-mile maze, is geared to older children and adults. It’s becoming popular for groups to come in the evenings on the weekends to try the corn maze by cell phone lights or flashlights.

Clayton Garner said the maze used to be made of corn, but he switched to sorghum because it’s more drought and weather resistant and holds up better than corn.

The maze was cut to spell out the words “Got to be NC Agriculture.”

Another popular event for the students Friday was a hayride.

A tractor, driven by Greg Garner, pulled the trailer filled with children, parents and teachers through the woods and onto several large fields, including a pumpkin patch.

As they rode along, education coordinator Heather Hopkinson talked to groups about the various types of pumpkins grown on the farm and about the lifecycle of the plants.

“The largest pumpkin we’ve ever grown here weighed 126 pounds,” Ms. Hopkinson said.

Once the hayride was finished, groups watched Clayton Garner use a large catapult to launch two pumpkins out onto a field to be smashed. Then it was off to races through an obstacle course, where children ran through a maze created by bales of hay.

Teachers said they enjoy bringing their students and parents to the farm each fall.

Taylor Roth, a teacher at the Nature School at Camp Albemarle in Newport, said, “We’re a nature school so we encourage our kids to be outside as much as possible and this fits with what we do. We’re also about community and hands-on learning, and there is so much sensory learning here.”

Nature School pre-schooler Wyatt Capps, 4, of Morehead City, said he enjoyed spending time at the farm, especially the hayride because he likes tractors.

“I liked seeing the pumpkins and they showed us things about growing pumpkins,” he said.

When schools sign up for a visit, the Garners send teachers informational materials ahead of time so they can prepare their students.

The farm is usually booked up for school groups by mid-September.

This is the fifth year the corn maze has been open.

Those wanting more information can contact Garner’s Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch at 252-241-1184.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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