The Elkton fall mainstay — which includes not just a maze but hayrides, sunflower picking, a petting zoo and other kid-friendly fun — has become an annual tradition for many families.

Planning for the following year’s corn maze begins even before this year’s event has ended at Sykes Family Farms.

The Elkton fall mainstay — which includes not just a maze but hayrides, sunflower picking, a petting zoo and other kid-friendly fun — has become an annual tradition for many families, but it starts with the Sykes Clan first: patriarch Bucky Sykes, his daughter Jaime Losco, son John, their spouses and his grandchildren.

“My brother and I, we’ll be looking around trying to think of things to add, to make it a little different next year,” said Losco.

For this fall, the farm’s ninth maze, repeat visitors may notice several things: a corn box for kids to play in (filled with shelled kernels instead of sand); a larger playground area; and a new barn structure.

Last year, it was the pick-your-own sunflowers field — rows and rows of the bright yellow-and-brown blooms where many families began staging photos. The attraction now rivals the maze itself as a draw.

“We never would’ve guessed that,” Losco said. “I’ve had people calling all week about it.”

The corn maze was first begun in 2010 by both the Sykes and Cooper (an aunt and uncle) families as a way to supplement their farming income. A few years ago, the Coopers dropped out but the rest of the family kept it going.

To put on the annual month-long event, the Sykes rely on their own relatives as well as employees, many of whom they’ve come to think of as family over the years.

In the same way the holiday season is for retail stores, the farm hires an influx of workers — some 50 people — to staff the 9-acre maze, drive hayride tractors, run children’s activities, sell tickets and fall merchandise (from pumpkins to jellies and baked goods). Though the Sykes sell their own beverages, they contract with an outside food vendor to supply the barbecue and carnival fare that’s sold at an on-site booth.

Many of the staff are young people — friends of other local farming families or college students — or older folks looking to pick up some seasonal work.

Preparations for the event begin sometime in the spring, with Losco and her brother beginning to think about what kind of design they want that year for the maze. Usually, it’s some kind of tribute to the farming community, their roots or another theme such as the sunflower motif they chose for this fall.

The Sykes use The Maze Company, a Utah-based firm that specializes in corn maze designs, creating a computer template, GPS-ing the design to fit the field and then, when the stalks are about 2 feet high, carving the paths out on site.

In the summer, usually mid-July or so, the sorghum crops (not actual corn) are planted. It’s about 60 days out that sunflowers are beginning to be sown and are timed in waves “so we’ll hopefully have it blooming throughout the entire month,” Losco said.

A month to several weeks before opening, surfaces are pressure-washed and fixtures that have become weathered are repainted. The week ahead, hay is delivered, supplies picked up and outbuildings are decorated with country trimmings like the burlap the Losco and Sykes children were securing Sunday to spindles used as tables in the pumpkin barn.

“It’s a family affair for sure,” said Losco, to which her 15-year-old niece Caitlyn Sykes added with a laugh, “This is the most time we spend together all year, and we live right next to each other up the road.”

The event wraps up the way it begins, breaking down the display with help from kin and staff — sort of the opposite of a barn raising.

“And we do one last cookout for all our workers and their families, to say thank you,” said Losco. “Family is everything to us, and that’s what we enjoy about it. That, and watching other people make memories with their own families.”

If you go

What: Sykes Family Farms Corn Maze

Where: 5995 Brough Rd., Elkton

When: Fridays through Sundays, Oct. 5-Oct. 27. Fridays, 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Oct. 5 when the gates do not open until 4 p.m.). The last tickets are sold one hour prior to closing.

Cost: General admission, $13; children 2 and under, free; senior citizens and military with ID, $11.

For more information: Go online to www.sycofarms.com or call (904) 692-1370.

This story originally published to staugustine.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.