Six months ago, Bonnie Swank sat on her stool in the middle of a cornfield on 4751 Pacheco Pass Highway, wondering if the large piece of land around her could serve as the next home for the Swank Farms corn maze. Bonnie’s husband, Dick, kept insisting it was a good location. The Swanks had been looking for a new site for their corn maze after the previous land that they were renting for the corn maze was sold last December.
After a 17-year run at the former location adjacent to the Hollister Airport, the Swanks needed to find a new home. Even though the new location has turned out to be a prime spot, Bonnie initially couldn’t see it working.
“I tried to imagine how this was going to work,” says Bonnie, a former window-cover business owner. “I sat in that field for about an hour, and I could finally see it.”
Even though Swank Farms is far from a finished product—a variety of regulations delayed construction until 15 days before this year’s opening on Sept. 29—Bonnie and Dick’s intuition proved prescient.
The new location sits on 20 acres adjoining their home ranch, and Bonnie says it’s been business as usual, as customers from the Central Coast and Bay Area descend upon Hollister to experience Swank Farms.
Some of the featured attractions include the corn maze—which consists of two different courses along with a haunted version at night—to go along with a pumpkin patch, pedal karts, pumpkin slingshot, corn cannon and a pair of giant jumping pillows—one for children and one for adults.
“It has been a great addition because the older people can be on one pillow and the more rambunctious group on the other,” says Bonnie.
Bonnie is a jack of all trades—literally. Last Thursday, she was hard at work hammering in some nails to put the finishing touches on a pen that houses the chickens. Never afraid to get her hands dirty, Bonnie—affable as always—still wonders at times how everything came together in such a short amount of time.
For a while, it had looked as if the Swank Farms experience would be a no-show for the 2017 season.
“We didn’t get a use permit until 15 days before we opened,” says Bonnie. “That meant we literally couldn’t put in any electrical, plumbing or the parking lot until we got that permit. So this all happened within a couple of weeks. We had people drop what they were doing and come help us. There were plenty of people who didn’t think we’d get open. We’re very proud of everything—it might not be perfect, but at least we have a good team and we’re up and running.”
Bonnie says she can hardly wait to see how the facility will look a year from now. A new two-story snack shack will feature a sit-down lunch counter, fudge shop and store. Eventually, the Swanks plan on renting out the upstairs portion of the shack to hold weddings and various social events, including farm to table dinners.
“Hopefully people follow us in our vision and what’s to come,” says Bonnie. “Some of them can’t see what we’re trying to do.”
For the Swanks, running the farm and corn maze has been a labor of love. In 2000, Dick realized that 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, in part to give repeat customers a different and challenging experience.
Through all the uncertainty of finding a new location, Bonnie says she can’t wait for what the future holds. When the Swanks could no longer rent the property that housed the farm for the l17 years, they could have packed it in and called it quits.
“We could’ve said goodbye to the corn maze,” says Bonnie. “But people enjoy coming here, and we enjoy putting it on.”
Visit Swank Farms in Hollister to check out both day and nighttime experiences. Daytime activities run from 10am–6pm for an all inclusive price and include the Kiddy Corral, Spookley Maze, Maniac Maze, Cow Train Pedal Karts and more. Nighttime events begin at 6pm and the haunted Terror in the Corn “Anything Goes” opens weekends after dark. Visit Swank Farms, 4751 Pacheco Pass Highway, through Oct. 31. For more information, visit swankfarms.com.