Crafted from 100,000 sunflowers, the Bowden sunmaze is located on Eagle Creek Farms where guests can also u-pick fruit, vegetables and flowers and try their luck with tree and patio mazes. Today John Mills guides us through what goes on behind the scenes at the famous attraction.
“I think the success of the farm is the unique combination of attractions,” says Mills. “There are plenty of other corn mazes and u-picks in Canada and even Alberta, but to have these two together along side the beautiful sunflower maze, which is one of only two in Canada, creates a truly unique experience. Additionally, the fact that we are doing everything organically may only interest a small number of people, but it is important to us.”
He’s been fascinated with live mazes for years.
“One unique aspect on our farm is our willow tree maze; however, we have slowly been starting to grow two new tree mazes, one grown with lilacs and the other with cotoneaster. They are relatively slow growing and will take 5-8 years to fully establish.”
Mills has four children, and they are all under seven years old.
“I really enjoy being able to take the kids out after the maze closes to enjoy the sunflowers and corn in peace. After we often walk over to the u-pick to enjoy the strawberries, veggies, or to pick some flowers for the house.
The maze requires a great deal of planning. Mills continues, “Sunflowers are not necessarily a tough crop to grow and create a maze out of, however it takes quite a bit of planning to control weeds, to use multiple plantings to extend the bloom period – and you need a little luck. The luck is needed to avoid the hail. In 2014 our sunflowers were nearly completely wiped out by a July hail storm. This year the sunflowers were set back two weeks by a hail storm.”
Despite the challenges, he loves what he does, and loves sharing it with others.
“I grew up in a somewhat unusual neighborhood of entrepreneurial vegetable growers who opened my eyes to possibilities of growing something other than grain and raising cattle in Alberta,” he says. “Without others leading the way in growing veggies and other unique crops, I may have never thought I had the option of doing something different myself.
“I believe in what we do and how we grow (organically) and believe that it is important to create a community of shared knowledge to further the organic movement. I am active helping other young farmers get their start in Alberta by sharing my knowledge and even equipment if they are in close enough proximity. We also enjoy hosting school tours to teach young children about where their food comes from.
“It has been a struggle getting the word out about our farm and sunflower maze, and it has been a slow growth to get to where we are today. At times I questioned my decisions to grow a sunflower maze, corn maze, and have a u-pick all certified organic, but am happy that I have stuck with it! We are able to share what we are proud of with so many Albertans.”
The future looks sunny for the maze and the farm.
“To be honest my main focus on the farm now is raising my young family,” concludes Mills. “When I am not farming I am hanging out with my children and have made many changes on the farm to allow for weekends and evening to primarily be set aside for them. With that said, over the past two years we have started hosting weddings and suppers on the farm. I think we will continue to grow the event side of our operation.”
Justin Havre is the top producing REALTOR® with RE/MAX First, Canada's very first RE/MAX brokerage. Calgary real estate is his passion; Justin specializes in Southwest & Northwest Calgary homes for sale. He can be reached at 403.217.0003 or contacted through this site.