The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 8, 2012

Making the most of their land

Sisters bank on resources above, below ground to save farm

Star Beacon

PIERPONT — If Pam, Sue and Rena Hudson fail to save the family farm, it won’t be because they didn’t give it their all.

For the fifth year, the sisters are running a corn maze at the Creek Road farm of 122 acres. The maze is cut into about seven acres of a 15-acre planting of corn, which will be harvested in November.

Now through Halloween, the corn field offers agritourism’s metaphor for life: Twists, turns and dead ends mixed with laughter, frustration and muddy feet.

Sue Hudson said they planted the corn in late June so the leaves would still be green in October. A recent hail storm played havoc with that plan, but the battered leaves provide enough foliage to hem in the rows and muffle the voices of wandering seekers.

“It makes for a better corn maze if the leaves are green and you can’t see the other people,” Sue said.

If seen from the air, the maze would look like a giant “H” with lots of misleading paths branching off the stout goal post. Sue said they plan to add signs at key points on the “H” so people will know “where in the H” they are.

The “H,” of course, is for Hudson, the name that has been on the deed to this farm since Mother’s Day 1945, when Myron and Elsie Hudson purchased the property. Elsie died seven years ago, and the sisters realized that if they were going to retain ownership of the farm, they would have to buy out the interests of the other heirs and find new ways to generate revenue from the tired land.

Much of the land was covered with invasive species. Sue and Pam decided to get some goats and put them to the task of clearing the land. They also decided to tap the agritourism market with a corn maze and petting zoo — rabbits, chickens and more than 50 goats.

“We need to get rid of some,” Sue says. “Anybody who wants a pet goat, we got some nice ones.”

They make goat milk fudge and sell it at the Pierpont Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. And they partner with a  neighbor to provide hay wagon rides around the perimeter of the corn field. The rides, $2 per person, minimum of 15 persons or $30, are offered by appointment. Call 577-1196 to schedule a group.

The maze and hayrides, however, come only once a year. The loan payment to Wells Fargo comes due every month.

“We’re still working on it,” Sue says, when asked if they have found a way to save the family farm.

Their latest hopes come from above and below the soil. Beyond the corn field are 25 acres planted in the energy crop of miscanthus grass; another 25 acres of miscanthus grow on their land across the street. The first harvest won’t be made for more than a year, but Sue feels good about the long-term potential.

“I think it is patriotic to grow miscanthus,” she said. “We need the alternative source of fuel. We were not interested in it at first, but the more we heard about it, the better it sounded.”

The women also are looking at resources far below the corn and miscanthus, the oil and gas locked below the shale layer and accessible by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Sue said Pam’s background in geology has been helpful in helping them understand the science behind the boom and put some environmental fears to rest.

The bigger concern, at least for now, is getting a fair deal that shows regard for the land’s surface qualities and potential.

“We’re looking at leases that are very landowner friendly,” Sue said. “A landowner organization is probably the way to go. If you work as a group, you have a lot more power.”

It could be years before they see payment from those resources, however, so the Hudson sisters continue to save the farm one goat, one corn stalk, one maze patron at a time.

The maze is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to dark. Friday through Sunday, there are extended hours until 10:30 p.m. The farm is located at 400 Creek Road, Pierpont Township.