SOUTHWEST CITY, Mo. Not wanting to retire and do nothing and also desiring to join a love for agriculture with a Christian ministry, Galen Manning, together with his brothers Gary and David, have turned a family farm into a wholesome place for young and old alike to visit.
"Make Right Choices," the theme of the farm's activities, is also the name of a book Galen has written.
"Right choices make a difference in people's lives," Galen said.
Themes at the farm are themes from his book. This year's theme is making healthy choices and includes a vegetable garden with wholesome foods and a corn-maze design illustrating that theme with a farmer / gardener in his field with a basket overflowing with produce.
"Right is always right, wrong is always wrong, regardless of the circumstance," Galen said in his book. "Right is always right, wrong is always wrong, no matter what other people do. Right choices produce right results. Wrong choices produce wrong results. Always strive to make right choices," he wrote.
The farm's main feature is a corn maze laid out on seven acres of land. Visitors can take trails through the maze, where making right choices are indeed important in navigating the paths.
But the farm, which has been in the Manning family since 1870, also offers other options, including a walking trail, hay ride, farm-animal zoo, pumpkin patch, corn cannons, slides, picnic and grilling areas, restrooms and concessions.
New at the farm this year are:
• A pumpkin house with pumpkins and fresh produce;
• A fall garden;
• Live corn broom making every weekend;
• Improved corn cannons on an elevated platform and new targets;
• An expanded picnic and play area near Manning Spring; and
• Corn-fed beef for sale.
In the maze's fourth year, the Mannings are anticipating large numbers of visitors. Last fall, the farm had 20,000 visitors during its fall season. This year, the Mannings are expecting about 25,000 guests - "with good weather," Galen said.
Galen, who recently retired from a 26-year career with Walmart, wanted to find a way to use the family farm, which he had worked on the side, into a ministry opportunity.
Galen and his wife Barbie, a school teacher, visited another corn maze and decided to look into building a maze of their own on the family farm. They joined an organization in Utah which helps people build the mazes by designing and marking out the paths.
"My brother Gary retired about the same time as I did," Galen said. Gary, a carpenter by trade, helped restore the farm's 1875 barn and build other fixtures on the farm. Another brother, David, built the farm's Web site; and Galen's daughter Charity now promotes the maze and events there.
When the farm is open, neighbors and members from the churches the Mannings attend help out with the many activities on the farm, Galen said.
"We're only open eight weeks a year, but we're working on the maze and getting things ready all-year-long," Galen said.
The corn - mostly field corn but also popcorn, ornamental corn and silage corn - is planted in rows going north and south and east and west. After the Utah-based organization finishes the design, and the corn is planted and growing, they come out, mark every 10th row and spray paint where the paths are to be cut. The Mannings then follow with a lawn mower to cut the paths to make the 1,100-foot labyrinth in the corn.
This year's maze includes a 12-foot bridge along the pathway, allowing those trying to find their way through the maze to look out over the plot with its 8-to-10-foot corn plants.
For anyone wanting an aerial view of the maze, which includes the outlines of a farmer and fresh farm produce, a trip to the old hay loft will provide a view from 30 feet above the ground.
Visitors who have always wanted to shoot a big gun are sure to enjoy the corn cannons - now on a special platform, complete with large bull's-eye targets downrange. The air-powered guns will launch an ear of corn at a target 50 to 60 yards away with the touch of a button.
For the children, the Mannings have constructed numerous games and activities, including pumpkin ball, hill slides, hay jump, corn box and racing ducks. The farm-animal zoo includes pigs, goats, lambs, ducks and geese. A tractor-pulled cow train ride is also available.
Entire families can take a hay ride across the farm and along the Elk River and a nature walk leading to the old Slatten Mine. A picnic area, with tables and grills, is located in a grove of trees near the mouth of a cave.
The Manning Farm and Right Choices Corn Maze is located just north of Southwest City and east on Manning Road (Oklahoma 25 and Missouri County Road O). The farm will be open to the public every weekend - Fridays through Sundays - from Sept. 19 through Nov. 8. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, Noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Educational field trips may be scheduled by appointment Monday through Friday by calling 417-762-3695.
The following are special dates at the farm to keep in mind:
• Opening day is Saturday, Sept. 19;
• Pony rides on Saturday, Sept. 26;
• Antique tractor show and live gospel music on Saturday, Oct. 3;
• Antique tractor show on Sunday, Oct. 4;
• Live contemporary Christian music on Saturday, Oct. 10;
• Bonfire at dusk on Sunday, Oct. 11;
• Live contemporary Christian music on Saturday, Oct. 17;
• Bonfire at dusk on Sunday, Oct. 18;
• Horse-drawn wagon rides on Saturday, Oct. 24, and Sunday, Oct. 25;
• Pony rides and fundraiser weekend to benefit Area Community Health Emissaries on Saturday, Oct. 31; and
• Last day of the season on Sunday, Nov. 8.
Admission to the maze is $6 per person, with children 4 and under admitted free. A season pass is available for $15. Group rates are available.
For more information, contact Galen or Barbie Manning at rightchoices @ hotmail.com, 417-762-3695, or visit the farm's Web site at www.rightchoicescornmaze.com.
News, Pages 8 on 09/16/2009