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“Blueberries for Sal” is about getting lost. The classic 1948 children’s book by Maine author Robert McCloskey follows a mother and her daughter, the titular Sal, as they harvest wild blueberries on the aptly-named Blueberry Hill. A mother bear and her cub happen to be doing the same. A mix-up ensues when Sal and the baby bear lose their way, but — 70-year-old spoiler alert — everyone finds their way back in the end.
Despite the characters’ disorientation — or, perhaps, because of it — the owners of Treworgy Family Orchards used the classic story as their inspiration for their annual corn maze this year. When viewed from above, the scattered stalks of corn come together to depict a foraging mother bear trailed by a child carrying a blueberry pail.
This year, the maze was named the second-best corn maze in the country by USA Today’s 10Best Readers Choice Awards.
The orchard in Levant has designed, laid out and planted a corn maze every year since 2001. Past maze designs include a lumberjack, a train with a conductor and a knight fighting a dragon. Treworgy Family Orchards has the longest continually running corn maze in the state of Maine.
Jonathan Kenerson, CEO of Treworgy Family Orchards and son-in-law to founders Gary and Patty Treworgy, said that every winter, the Treworgy family bounces ideas back and forth to figure out what the upcoming year’s design will be. He can’t remember who, exactly, came up with the “Blueberries for Sal” theme, but the Treworgys were instantly on board.
“It’s one of the most beloved books in our family,” Kenerson said.
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of “Blueberries for Sal” receiving the Caldecott Honor, an award designated by a division of the American Library Association every year to the “most distinguished American picture book for children.”
Making the maze
Unlike many farms that commission companies to handle maze design, licensing and preparation with GPS-guided tractors, the Treworgys’ annual corn maze is an in-house operation that involves artistry, patience and months of preparation.
Preparing Treworgy’s annual corn maze starts with planting the corn itself. Every year, the family rotates the fields where they grow the corn maze for the sake of soil health.
“It’s a different canvas [every year],” Kenerson said. The Treworgys planned to do the “Blueberries for Sal” maze last year, he said, but the design did not fit in that year’s field.
Then comes design. The Treworgys start by hand-drawing their plan for the maze. For the “Blueberries for Sal” design, they worked with the McCloskey family to get permission to depict the beloved book characters.
“‘Blueberries for Sal’ has given so much pleasure to so many people over so many generations and in so many formats,” the McCloskey family commented in an email. “We are delighted that it continues to please as a corn maze.”
Right before the plants germinate, the Treworgys paint the planned trails over the sprouting plants. As the corn grows, they mow along the painted lines with a weight behind the mower to pack down trails.
Kenerson and his brother-in-law — Matt Pellerin, Treworgy Orchard’s director of agriculture — make the family’s design a reality. Both earned master’s degrees in engineering at the University of Maine and use their experience with traditional surveying techniques to transpose the picture onto the field.
“For us, it’s an art,” Kenerson said. “Each plant is like a pixel.”
Kenerson said that they fly a drone over the maze while they are laying it down to fine tune the details. The Treworgys are committed to detail: Sal’s pail in the maze contains three blueberries, the same number she carries in the book. Kenerson said he achieved this by chopping down individual stalks of corn with a machete.
After the maze is set up, the family has to maintain it. Maintenance includes not only weeding and clearing trails, but also adjusting for the weather. This August was especially dry, so Kenerson said the Treworgys used irrigation towers to keep the corn looking fresh.
Maintenance is more challenging as the months wear on. The maze is open until November, long after the prime time for corn crops.
“In the end of October, we will get hit with a frost and the maze could be a bunch of sticks,” Kenerson said. “As long as it’s upright, it’s working.”
The maze experience
Treworgy maze-goers are not only challenged to make it from the maze’s start to finish, but they are also tasked with finding six stations throughout the maze. At each station, there are three “Blueberries for Sal” and Treworgy Orchards-related trivia questions, ranging from “easy,” “hard,” and “super hard.” (Kenerson admits that even he could not get all the “super hard” questions right on the first try.)
The map provided to maze-goers before they brave the winding trails has a scratch-off section for visitors to answer the trivia questions at the level they choose. If they answer all the questions correctly, they can redeem their map for a free cone of ice cream once they finish the maze.
The orchard will also host special Night Maze challenges the evenings of October 18,19, 25 and 26, weather-permitting. Visitors brave the maze by the light of their flashlights and are rewarded with candy and apples at each of the stations.
Along with the corn maze, Treworgy Family Orchards also offers other family-friendly experiences, including apple picking, hayrides and a pumpkin patch.
“It’s all of the fall activities together,” Kenerson said. “If a farm across the street were to just do a corn maze, it wouldn’t have the same effect. It’s part of the overall experience”
Treworgy Family Orchards also grows high bush blueberries, but ironically, Kenerson said the long winter led to a substandard blueberry harvest this year.
Watch: Hayrides and safety measures at Treworgy Family Orchards