A multigenerational Lacombe-area family is being awarded the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce Farm Family of the Year.
Ed and Linda Kraay, along with the younger generation of Reuben and Rachel Kraay, run Kraay Family Farms — which for 20 years has been home to the popular Lacombe Corn Maze.
Rachel said it was a great honour for her family to be recognized and said they don’t do what they do for awards. What they do try to do is bring something new to the farm, which has grown exponentially and is now celebrating their 20th anniversary.
“People get excited about the new things. It is a lot of work every year but it is also really fun. It engages us and the people that come here, she said.
The idea for the maze came after 21 years ago when Reuben, who was in post-secondary of the time, visited a corn maze in Chilliwack. He brought the idea to his family farm near Lacombe, which at the time was a hog farm.
“It started off as a way to save the farm because hogs weren’t so good at the time,” he said.
The first few years was simply the maze and a fire pit, a far cry from the expansive family fun complex it is today.
Rachel said throughout it all, the focus has been teaching people about life on the farm and agriculture.
“Playing on the farm is the best way to learn. We don’t do a lot of sit down and listen to us education — we try to get the schools out as much as possible to give kids that experience,” she said.
As the farm has grown, Ed and Reuben — who are carpenters by trade — have slowly dialed back their projects due to the expansive nature of Kraay Family Farms.
Each year, the family works with a company that designs the mazes. Once they have a design laid out — they grid it out on the field using spray. They then follow the design with a rototiller and then let it grow to maturity.
It can be a lot of work, but Rachel said it has paid off every year.
“We see a big increase every year, not just people but also in season pass holders which means there is loyalty. We know that people are telling their friends to come on social media — so that is pretty neat. Every year we are excited for people to come back,” she said.
Linda added the design and work is always a family affair and that family connection has allowed it to be successful year after year.
”It keeps us dreaming. Every year we introduce new things to the farm,” she said
One of the added bonuses, for Linda, is seeing the kids put down their devices.
“They get to get dirty on the farm,” she said.
Rachel added the people that come here often point out the work that goes into the farm
“I think if it was a farm that was slowly disintegrating, I don’t think there would be the same appeal,” she said.
The reason the farm isn’t disintegrating is due to a constant effort to reinvest, according to Reuben.
“You constantly reinvest from year to year. That is where the whole expansion comes from. We have to reinvest as much as we can to make it grow,” he said.
Reuben added connecting and working with the community has helped them succeed, something Ed agrees with.
”It is more about who we can work with and the events coming up,” Ed said. “It has become a place for corporate parties and that has become a good family thing,” Ed said
Going forward, Rachel said Kraay Family Farms will continue to react to the needs of the community — even after Ed and Linda retire, which is one of their goals
“I don’t think we could teach people how to make a 20-year business plan. We work two years at a time. We have some big dreams and I think it will look like a bigger and better version of this,” Rachel said.