From a young age, Scott Skelly has been redefining entrepreneurial spirit. Combining his enthusiasm for cooperating the family farm with an inherent love of challenges, the 30-year-old has proven that success comes from passion and constant ingenuity.
His path toward growing his own business began in the summer of 1988, when a regional drought curbed the sweet corn crop of southern Wisconsin. This is when it all began. Although he owned a dairy farm in Janesville, Skelly’s father, Tom, decided to plant a few rows of sweet corn to be able to eat the next season. He planted four rows of corn around their house so they could water it with the garden hose.
The sweet corn crop flourished the following year, leaving a bit to be sold as diversified income for the children’s college funds. After the profitability of the first year, the Skellys continuously planted and sold more corn to a growing clientele.
“That was always what we did during the summer,” Skelly says. “Then my brother started raising other fruits and vegetables as people were coming out and buying sweet corn.”
Skelly recalls his brother, Joe, thinking, maybe people will buy other things while they’re out here, too.
“We started raising pumpkins, [and] my parents decided we should go visit some other farms, and we ended up at a pumpkin farm that had a maze made out of snow fence,” Skelly says. “I thought that was really cool. I always was a nerd and loved mazes as a kid.”
Skelly’s endless attempts at persuading his father to build the snow fence maze fell short of fruition. “He’s like, ‘No, that would be way too much work,’” he says about his father. About that time, his father had read about people starting to make corn mazes. Skelly remembers his dad saying, “Well, this sounds a lot easier. Let’s just go cut some trails in the cornfield next to the house.”
Nine-year-old Skelly sketched the maze pattern on graph paper, and then his father helped him mow more than three-quarters of an acre in the field.
As the Skelly corn maze started gaining attention, so did Skelly’s talent for designing and executing enjoyment for maze-running customers. Farms began hiring the high schooler to craft custom mazes across the Midwest.
“Other farmers saw that we had a maze and started contacting us, ‘Who makes it for you?’ and then I realized I could charge other farms to do these same services,” Skelly says.
When he was just old enough to drive, Skelly began the farm’s sister company, Corn Mazes America.
He bought an old ambulance and converted it into his travel vehicle, taking him from one corn maze state to another.
“I had ramps, and you could drive a mower right in the back door, and I’d sleep in the bed on the side,” Skelly says. “I had power outlets so I could run computers off everything [too].”
Throughout his college years, Skelly and his now-wife, Laura, ventured to various farms in their numerous editions of renovated travel vehicles.
After getting married, things started getting busier at Skelly’s Family Farm. In the early 2000s, the new current generation of operators – being Skelly and his brother – decided to transition from dairy to fruit-and-vegetable farming.
“We have transitioned as needed over the years to stay viable as a farm,” Skelly’s father, Tom says. “In the ’60s we eliminated all other livestock except for the cows, like many other Wisconsin farmers. Converting to fruits and vegetables was just another stage in our history of doing what works for us.”
With the growth of the produce market and other new activities offered on the family farm, there was more work than hours in the day to operate both the farm and the consulting business.
It was at this point that Skelly had to decide between growing a flourishing, yet routine-like, business in Corn Mazes America, or cultivating a terrain of endless innovation at the family farm. In the end, it was the
excitement of rapidly changing elements and seasons that led Skelly to choose the latter.
“I love working on our farm and the changing seasons. We’re always doing something different,” Skelly says. “Basically, I knew that there’s only so many hours in the day and either of the businesses could take more than I had hours for anyways. So something had to give.”
The sixth generation of operators on the farm, Skelly and his brother have fully transitioned the Skelly’s operation from a dairy farm to a fruit and vegetable, and family-friendly entertainment farm. With two corn mazes, a “Choose Your Farm Adventure” wagon ride (inspired by choose-your-own-adventure children’s books), a fruit and vegetable market during the summer and fall months, and a bakery that pipes out apple cider donuts and pastries all day long, Skelly dedicated much of the farm’s success to his family’s can-do attitude.
“Certainly, it’s not something that I’m doing all of this by any means!” Skelly says. “Everybody kind of has a role, and certainly we communicate a lot and try to help each other out whenever possible.”
Before he could put his focus on the home farm, however, Skelly needed to help his clients continue making corn mazes without the constant aid of his own expertise. The search for a software that was cost-effective and designed specifically for cutting corn mazes came up empty.
So, Skelly created his own. It allows Skelly to design a corn maze, sync it to GPS coordinates in the field and program the mower to cut the design paths. By having this software, Skelly was able to continue the consulting business remotely.
With the corn maze-specific GPS coordinate software now in existence, Skelly’s Family Farm was the first to offer corn maze GPS tracking on smartphones in 2012. Despite Skelly’s fundamental thirst for challenge, he empathizes with others who may be more skeptical of entering a 12-foot tall corn forest that encompasses seven acres of land.
“There are certain people that would never go in a corn maze if they didn’t have a GPS to tell them exactly where they are at all times,” Skelly says. “If we visited another corn maze, I would stick the map in my back pocket and see how long it would take me to get through it. If it took me three hours to get through, so be it. I’m going to find my way through without a map.”