All is still and quiet at Rogers Farm but for a faint breeze and the soft, muffled clucks of a few chickens behind barbed wire.
Near them are ponies, donkeys, goats and a mule, all of which roam slowly within their pens while a few dusty pigs lie in peace, side by side.
Next to a mini maze of hay and a deflated, gigantic bouncing pillow are dozens of big, orange pumpkins, some bright orange, some tawny — all waiting to be inspected and selected by one of the thousands of children on field trips who will visit the farm this week.
In the distance, ensconced in hushed rays of sunlight, rustles a seemingly eternal stretch of 6-foot-tall corn stalks. Within the patch lie downtrodden stalks and dusty dirt trails, deserted and silent for now — though they won’t be for long.
On October weekend nights, the rows are alive with the shrieks of playful victims and games of masked men with chainsaws and cloaked monsters with pumpkins for heads.
All of these things — the vegetables, the maze, the hay, games and scares — are part of Rogers Farm’s second annual Corn Maze and Fall Festival.
Started in the mid-70s by Larry Rogers, Rogers Farm consists of 2,000 acres of land that grows sweet corn, strawberries, okra and 15 varieties of beans and peas year-round.
After hearing from a friend and fellow farmer in Georgia about the success of fall festivals and corn mazes, Rogers decided to open his 110-acre farm headquarters, 3831 NW 156th Ave., to the public.
With the help of his son Greg, 48, and grandson Sidney, 25, he organized all the festivities, and the event has been a hit not only among Alachua County residents, but in all of north Florida.
During the week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., elementary school students from as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Ocala pay $6 to visit the farm during its non-haunted hours. Haunted hours start at 8 p.m. on weekends, when guests pay $12 to wander the 10-acre maze where people in spooky Jason X masks and bloody nurse, clown and witch costumes scour the premises. Guests who don’t partake in the haunted zones pay $8 on weekends for festivities alone.
So far on non-haunted weekdays this month, about 4,600 elementary school students have visited the farm — more than four times the number of students who visited last October, said Rogers’ grandson Sidney, manager and co-owner of the farm.
Last weekend, more than 3,000 people came by — a significant increase from the farm’s best weekend last October, when only 500 came.
Sidney, who graduated from UF in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in business, is one of the main players behind the farm’s recent success.
In a management style he describes as “aggressive, yet polite,” he continually ensures that guests have a functional, reliable website to access, that trash on the premises is picked up, that no guests are drinking alcohol or smoking on the farm and that the Porta-Potties are cleaned frequently.
Also, he takes it upon himself to ensure that no physical arguments occur, constantly monitoring the 10 divided quadrants of his 10-acre corn field, map and flashlight in hand. Mainly, he makes sure his employees and volunteers are doing their jobs by not touching guests and that guests are following his strictly laid-out rules by not touching them, either.
And, when he’s not working, he’s taking part in the fun.
On weekends, he works alongside his 29 other employees as a “scarer” on the Spook Trail, a 200-yard slice of woods with quicksand (a mattress under leaves), strobe lights and fog machines.
Trading in his T-shirt and jeans for a “teethy” vampire-like mask, Sidney hides in a little nook among the trees, pops out and scares those walking by.
“I’ve had people urinate themselves, fall down,” he said.
He also remembered a time when a guest got so scared she had a panic attack.
“I got a call on my walkie-talkie,” he said.
“[The guest] was freaking out. I practically had to carry her out of the corn maze.”
While guests can use flashlights by giving a $3 safety deposit, he said, where the “scarers” are — within the maze or the Spook Trail — it’s nearly pitch black.
“There’s no lights,” he said, “…just the moonlight.”
Sunday is the last night to walk through the Spook Trail.