Farmers find a Swank niche in Hollister with corn maze

Students feed the goats with cornstalks Wednesday morning at Swank Farms. Photo by Nick Lovejoy

Make no mistake: Bonnie and Dick Swank are farmers, first and foremost. The married couple of 13 years own Swank Farms, a 60-acre ranch located off of Churchill Road. But every October the Swanks run the hugely popular corn maze on a property they rent off of San Felipe Road.
Swank Farms has always been known as a quality produce operation, but it has also become synonymous with its corn maze and other attractions, including a pumpkin patch, Kiddy Corral and Haunted Ranch.
“We’re farmers 24-7, but we do this (corn maze) on top of our regular business. It’s kind of a crazy schedule,” Bonnie said. “On Friday (Oct. 9), Dick got up at 6 a.m. and didn’t get to bed until 1:30 (a.m. Saturday morning). We work a lot of long hours, but it’s worth it.”
For the Swanks, running the farm and corn maze has been a labor of love. In 2000, Dick realized in order to turn a profit—farming is tough business, especially for the smaller family-owned operation—he knew Swank Farms would have to do something different.
In the same year Dick met Bonnie, in 2000, he planted a field to create a corn maze. Talk about perfect timing. Bonnie, who has a background in apparel design and interior design, became the maze designer. The design changes every year, and this year’s maze has 27 hidden spots to complete a story.
On a recent hot, muggy day, this reporter completed the maze in a cool 35 minutes. The maze was impeccably built, with enough false trails diverging from the main path to challenge even the best problem solvers. Several schools all across the Bay Area bring their kids for day trips to Swank Farms.
It’s a kids’ paradise, as children can ride pedal karts, mine for gemstones, jump on the giant jumping pillow or jump on the cow train for a ride through the corn field. Some other activities families can enjoy include a pumpkin sling shot and corn cannon. Whenever a busload of kids arrive on the farm for a field trip, Bonnie often plays storyteller, reading The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin, a book by Joe Troiano. The Swanks actually went to Boston in 2004 to meet Troiano, and the three have a good relationship to this day.
“We met Joe in Boston looking for something to make our field trips and the Kiddy Corral a special story, so this was perfect,” Bonnie said. “I designed the Spookley Maze, and since we were the first one (in the nation) to do this design (based off of the book), they have now sold their program to other mazes. They don’t charge as much to us because we were on the ground floor (working with them to launch a Spookley maze cornfield).”
Although the day-time activities are entertaining and fun, it’s at night when things can get really hair-raising and scary. “Terror in the Corn, Notorious New Orleans” is in its second year as the event’s haunted theme show. The Swanks connected with Sally Hail to run their haunted attraction.
“Sally owns a dance studio in town, and we’ve known her for years,” Bonnie said. “She’s very good in theatre and she’s brought a lot (to the haunted show).”
The haunted theme show runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and it’s a huge hit with children and teenagers.
“When we began this, we never thought it would take off as much as it has,” Bonnie said.
Corn mazes have become a tourist attraction worldwide, so it’s no surprise Swank Farms receives thousands of visitors in October from all over the Bay Area.
“This place comes alive in October,” Bonnie said.
In addition to all of the aforementioned events and attractions, Swank Farms also has a shop, where it sells an assortment of goodies, including 20-plus varieties of fudge. Swank Farms, which was purchased in 1928 by Dick’s grandfather, Bill Maggini, has been a Hollister institution for several decades. Bonnie and Dick do 18 Farmers’ Markets a week, and they also deliver their produce to restaurants to the Monterey and Carmel area.
“There’s a big difference between what Swank Farms was in 2000 and what it is now,” Bonnie said. “We’re proud of how we’ve grown this together—we’re definitely not rich, but we’re a lot bigger.”
On a recent day at the maze, Bonnie and Dick were all smiles, full of energy and tending to business. Their effervescent attitudes rub off on their employees and make the entire operation go. Like all happy marriages, the Swanks have quite a love story.
They actually met at Whiskey Creek Saloon on May 5, 2000. Bonnie was there celebrating one of her best friends’ birthday—she was the designated driver—and Dick was also there with his friends. Bonnie’s friend, who had met Dick a week before, introduced the two, and the rest as they say, is history.
“I had heard his name and known about him for many years, but had not met him,” Bonnie said. “He said he knew who I was, too. I guess it was meant to be.

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