Williamston fall attractions reap benefits despite COVID-19

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Customers shop for pumpkins, gourds and squash at Barkham Creek Farms on Oct. 10.

Madeline Warren

Customers shop for pumpkins, gourds and squash at Barkham Creek Farms on Oct. 10.

For some businesses and attractions open during the fall – specifically, pumpkin patches, corn mazes and farmers markets – in Williamston the pandemic affected them in different ways. 

Bestmaze Corn Maze

Bestmaze Corn Maze is located at 3803 Noble Road in Williamston. 

Owner of Bestmaze Corn Maze Mark Benjamin said after surveying people who came to the maze last season, he figures about half the regular customers stayed home due to the pandemic.

“Because other places were closed, we got a lot of brand new people who had never been here before,” Benjamin said. “We ended up having one of our best seasons ever of 20 years.” 

Despite COVID-19 concerns and cutting back advertising about 80% last year, Benjamin said the maze experienced huge crowds.

“The thing that shocked us (is), we were never slammed,” Benjamin said. “It was just like, a car pulled in, a car pulled out … all day long. We just had a nice steady flow.”

Benjamin said however, the maze was negatively affected by a rise in fertilizer prices for growing the corn due to COVID-19. 

“You shut the world’s supply down for a year, and it raises huge ripple effects down the line,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to pay huge amounts for fertilizer this next year with the maze.”

Benjamin said the maze has been more affected by rain and storms this year than it was by COVID-19, and said customers should check the maze website for closing notices before heading out.

Barkham Creek Farms

Barkham Creek Farms, located at 181 Haslett Road in Williamston Township, sells a variety of pumpkins, gourds, squash, as well as hay bales, corn stalks and homemade cider and donuts. There is also a corn maze available for guests to take part in.

Co-Owner of Barkham Creek Farms, Robert Barkham said the farm had a very good year during the 2020 season, despite COVID-19.

“We had an outstanding crop last year,” Barkham said “We, of course, are outdoors; a lot of people wore masks. We went through the safety procedures as far as our sales go and we had a good year.”

Barkham said the pandemic did not have much of an effect on business one way or another.

“We only started the cider mill and pumpkins seven years ago, so each year it has grown, just because a small business like that should,” Barkham said. “Whether COVID-19 had anything to do with it – people wanting to get and get outside – we had a good year last year.”

This year, Barkham said the farm lost a couple acres of pumpkin crop due to heavy rains and flooding.

“The rest of them (pumpkins) had a hard time,” Barkham said. “When extreme weather conditions come along, they will drop their fruit, and so our production was down in that area quite a bit this year, so that kind of hurt us.”

Customer pulling a wagon full of a variety of pumpkins while shopping at Barkham Creek Farms on Oct. 10. Video Credit: Madeline Warren.
Eastern Ingham Farmers Market

Located in Williamston, The Eastern Ingham Farmers Market at McCormick Park, 228 N. Putnam St. could only sell essential items during the 2020 season as instructed by the the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said Market Manager Tom Cary

Since the farmers market was only allowed to sell food products, Cary said a number of vendors, including craftspeople, were not able to participate when the season started.

Cary said the market had about a 20% increase in vendors this year than last year. 

“Part of that increase has to be due to the fact we had those early restrictions last year, where some vendors couldn’t even participate,” Cary said. “So that certainly affected things.”

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