By Jason A. Smith
Hundreds of people gathered last week to celebrate the annual opening of a growing tradition in Henry County, that its organizers hope will be both fun and educational for everyone who participates.
Southern Belle Farm in McDonough is the site of the 2008 Corn Maize. Although the farm will officially open to the public Sept. 19, the owners gave family members and friends a sneak peek at the facility Thursday.
Jake Carter runs the 200-acre farm, along with his father, Jimmy, and came up with the idea for the seven-acre maze three years ago. One of the reasons they did so, says Jake, was to enhance residents' knowledge of the "lost art" of agriculture. "We have seen in the past two years we've been open, that more and more people are coming - a lot of kids especially - who have never even stepped foot on a farm," he says.
"They don't have a clue where milk comes from, and have never thought about going on a hay ride or walking in a cornfield. I guess we're going in reverse [in comparison to] most people in the county. They're developing their property, while we're making ours more of a farm."
Jimmy Carter represents the sixth of eight generations of his family who have farmed in Henry over the years. He says offering a chance for residents to navigate their way through the maze started out as a business decision, but has become much more. "It was an effort to ... generate income for us as a family, but [also] to provide education for the community," he says. "One thing we're blessed with in Henry County is an abundance of people, so we wanted to [teach] the public about agriculture."
Carter says last week's event served as "dry run" for the various activities the farm will feature through October. Those activities include hay rides, pig races, a pedal-cart track and cannons from which miniature pumpkins are hurled into the air.
Visitors to the farm will also be able to witness milking demonstrations, see cotton plants, and watch small pigs race around a track.
Carter says coming to the Corn Maize provides families with an opportunity to spend quality time together. He says the experience is often as much for the adults in attendance, as it is for the kids.
One parent who brought her two sons to the maze is Erin Pringle, of McDonough. Pringle, 33, says her oldest son, 4-year-old Jack, has learned a lot about farm life through the Carters' maze.
"We came last year, and it was just fun for him to play in the corn. But now, he knows so much more about the farm and the tractors. And the people here are just great. They let him play with everything and climb on everything."
Along with opening the farm to area families each year, the Carter family also welcomes area schools to bring their students to Southern Belle for field trips, while the maze is in operation. Pringle, a teacher at Unity Grove Elementary School, says she appreciates the family's willingness to educate kids. "Our kindergartners and first-graders attend a lot of the farm activities here," she says. "[The farm's staff] teaches them about the dairy cows, and ... provides some great educational programs."
Mitzi Carter, 36, is a friend of the Carter family, and says this is the third straight year she has brought her children, 8-year-old Cody and 6-year-old Kayleigh, to the farm. She says her children are looking forward to taking advantage of the new features at the facility.
Still, Mitzi says the kids are not the only ones who glean something from the experience. "The kids love the animals and the pig races," says Mitzi. "I like the farm atmosphere."
The maze will hold a grand opening Sept. 19, and will be available Fridays and Saturdays in September, and Friday-Sunday each weekend in October. For more information, visit www.southernbellefarm.com.