Eden Prairie’s Peterson Family Creates a Twin Cities Fall Tradition

Seasonal fun at the annual Sever’s Corn Maze and Fall Festival.
The Peterson family works as a team to run Sever’s Corn Maze and Fall Festival, which has become an annual autumn destination for Minnesota families. From left to right: Sharon Peterson, Redford Peterson (3½), Nicola Peterson, Sever Peterson, August Peterson (1½), Aaron Peterson, Brooke Michaelson holding Amelia Michaelson (2½ mos.) and Mitch Michaelson

The challenge of a corn maze and the fun of a corn pit might lure some people to spend a day at Sever’s Corn Maze and Fall Festival in Shakopee, but not Christine Rasmusson’s family. “We actually love the pig races,” Rasmusson says. “It’s different, and it’s nice for kids because it’s quick. There are a few races and you can always come back and see more.”

She also likes that she can bring her 5-year-old twin daughters, her teenage son and her pre-teen nephew. “There’s something for every age,” says Rasmusson, who lives in nearby Chaska. “And it’s nice because it’s local and you aren’t driving a long way to have a fun afternoon.”

Introducing local families to the fun that can be had on a farm is at the heart of the Peterson operation. Sever and Sharon Peterson run the farm with their children and children’s spouses, Aaron and Nicola Peterson, and Mitch and Brooke Michaelson. “Our biggest motivator was and is imagining families having fun with what’s available on the farm,” Sever says. “We don’t think of it as a tradition for families, but we are always thinking what would folks enjoy that we enjoyed when we were growing up on the farm.”

Sever’s Corn Maze and Fall Festival is a one-stop shop for everything fall fun. From navigating the corn maze, which has a different theme each year, to sampling mini-donuts and listening to live music in the courtyard to feeding a llama in the exotic petting zoo, the 20-acre fields adjacent to Canterbury Park in Shakopee are bustling with more than 50,000 visitors annually, spread over six weekends during September and October.

Children can jump on inflatable jumping pillows, climb on a vintage tractor, wallow in a corn pit or run through a straw maze. Families can rest a bit and watch a wildlife show, guess what’s going to happen next in a magic show or cheer on their favorite piglet in the pig races. Each year there’s something new to entertain the regulars such as pumpkin blasters, rope swings, and currently in the works, a zip line.

 

Sever remembers one young guest who ran up to him as she left the maze one evening. “She was told, ‘This is the man who started the maze,’ and she asked if she could stay there with me,” Sever says. “Even at 4 years old, she recognized how much fun a farm could be.”

The maze and festival might be the fun of farm life, but anyone who has grown up on a farm or spent any amount of time there knows that farms are hard work. “Sever and Sharon are like many farmers, I think,” says Nicola Peterson, daughter-in-law. “Instead of thinking it’s a way to make a living or a 9-to-5 job, farming is truly a lifestyle.”

The family farm dates back to the 1880s and actually contains parts of Carver, Scott, and Hennepin counties. The home farm is still farmed each year and produces corn, soybeans, vegetables, pumpkins, gourds, squash, apples and honey.

The family now farms approximately 1,000 acres spread out around the southwest metro. Life is busy on the farm, from planting in the early spring to the harvest season, which happens right around corn maze time. “My parents started the corn maze as a way to diversify the fluctuation of traditional agriculture and commodity prices,” says Aaron Peterson. “It was a plus-one, not a replacement. Now, it’s become a very central part of our operation.”

Sharon still remembers the day when Sever came to her in 1997 and told her about the idea of starting a corn maze. “Our plate was full. We had young children and were opening more fresh market produce stands,” Sharon says. “I looked at him and said, ‘Are you crazy? How is that going to happen?’”

Sever had learned about mazes from an exchange student from England. Those mazes are in gardens, but a maze made out of corn? Sever and Sharon researched and found out hiring a design group from England was too expensive. “We drew it out on paper and it was trial and error,” Sever says.

They also opened during August. “It was hot and you didn’t want to be in 12-foot-high corn when it’s 90 degrees,” Sharon says.

But despite the headaches, Sever and Sharon were hooked. “I thought this is so much fun,” Sharon says. “It’s work, but it doesn’t feel like work. You are exhausted at the end of the day, but it’s a good exhaustion.”

 

The biggest enemy for most any farmer is weather, and the corn maze is no exception. Too much rain can easily drown out young plants. Geese, ducks and gophers can quickly destroy a young cornfield. “Geese just love young corn plants,” Sever says. “They love to come down to the maze area and pull them out. They can go down the row and just eat them.”

When the corn matures, heavy winds can wipe out an entire season’s work in minutes. The family remembers one windstorm that nearly decimated the corn maze. “The theme was the Wild West and a windstorm nearly blew down the maze,” Aaron says. “The aerial picture looked like the bucking bronco had a flowing mane.”

As summer winds down, work on both the farm and at the corn maze site cranks way up. The family now relies on the help of computers to help with the design, but they have to hoe out individual stalks of corn by hand. “We go in and we fix it, but we know before we start exactly where we are going to cut,” Sever explains.

Then the family has to put up tents and ready the displays and parking areas. “It takes us longer to set it all up than the days we are open,” Aaron says.

Once the maze and festival are open to the public, it’s all hands on deck working to complete whatever tasks need to be done. “During the corn maze season, Mitch and I are on site the most, with Aaron focusing more of his attention behind the scenes, such as harvesting pumpkins, apples and squash to be sold at the festival,” Nicola says. “We do everything from picking up garbage to selling tickets at the gate and everything in between.”

Sever and Sharon are still very much involved, but much of the farm’s everyday business has passed along to the next generation. “We love it,” Sever says. “It’s very gratifying to work with the next generation, and it will be great to see the grandkids help out one day.”

Currently, the three grandchildren are all under 5 years old, but they are already exposed to farm life the way that farm kids are: by picking up rocks in the field, riding on a tractor and knowing that it takes sweat and hard work to get a job done whether on their family farm or in the maze. “The maze is a way to connect a farm with people who don’t live on the farm,” Aaron says. “The spirit of farming is still there.”

 
Aerial Art This year marks the 18th anniversary of Sever’s Corn Maze, which has featured a variety of themes, including Explore Minnesota (2013, pictured above), Pirate Adventure (2009), Wild West (2007), Sever’s Safari (2005) and United States (2001). Photo courtesy of : Erdahl Photography

Sever’s Corn Maze & Fall Festival
This year’s theme is a tribute to firefighters.
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays September 11–November 1
Tickets: $15 for visitors ages 4+ (free for kids 3 and under)