By BRENNA GRITEMAN
PANDORA — It’s hard to imagine a more perfect autumn day than picking pumpkins from the vine, getting lost in a field of sunflowers, drinking freshly pressed apple cider and winding your way through a corn maze.
All of this and a whole lot more is available at Suter’s Produce in Pandora.
Third-generation farmer Jerry Suter says this year’s corn maze is themed “One Small Step,” in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. His son Tom designed the maze — featuring a rocket on a launch pad, an astronaut saluting the American flag on the surface of the moon, two giant footsteps, a lunar rover and more — and employed a team of helpers to hoe out the design by hand.
It takes the team about six days to cut the design into the 8-acre cornfield, clearing an estimated 40,000 corn stalks along the way.
In turn, visitors emerge from the maze in about 45 minutes to an hour, though an early-exit version is available and only takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Suter says the farm debuted its first corn maze, a traditional labyrinth, in 1999. Other themes throughout the years have included a circus, medieval times, pirates, the wild West and dinosaurs. In 2003, as a nod to Ohio’s bicentennial, the maze featured a log cabin, covered wagon, the state flag and a cardinal.
“I just think he’s an excellent corn maze designer,” Suter says of his son. “He keeps getting a little more involved each year.”
The family questioned the viability of this year’s maze this spring, as heavy rains delayed the planting of corn. Eventually, the rain stopped just long enough to get the field planted and, to Suter’s surprise, the crop has turned out nicely.
While the maze is a clear attraction, Suter says the hayrides out to the pumpkin patch are the farm’s biggest draw. He notes the 6-acre patch is a real, pick-your-own experience, complete with vines.
“We don’t just put pumpkins on a grass field and call it a pumpkin patch. They grew there. God put them there,” he says.
On the way to the patch, the hayride detours at a puppet show in the woods. On the way back, the tractor will stop at a brand-new, 4-acre sunflower field. Participants are invited to hop out, take pictures and pick bouquets.
“We are so excited about the sunflowers,” Suter says, noting the field was sewn in four different plantings to assure blooms throughout the season. “There will be thousands and thousands of sunflower plants in different sizes and colors.”
Culinary delights at the farm include cider made twice a week from an 1889 press; cider slushies; and fresh-made doughnuts and kettle corn.
Visitors of all ages also enjoy the giant tube slides; air-compressed corn cannons; barrel train rides; human hamster wheels; a super-sized corn box; and a giant ear of corn fashioned out of 2½-gallon plastic jugs.
Suter says it “tickles him” to see families meeting up for a day of fun at the farm, and he especially likes seeing three generations — grandparents, parents and their children — getting back to nature and celebrating the fruits of his labors.
“It’s kind of simple and yet, it’s all so real,” he says of the farm’s offerings. “This is really my favorite time of the year.”
The farm and corn maze are open from 1-8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Nov. 2.