A recently discovered alternative to the indoors, going "outside," offers adventurous explorers exposure to things such as wind, sunshine, and the naturally occurring mazes found in corn fields. Leave the indoors with today's Groupon: for $10, you get one admission to a hayride and corn maze (a $6 value), plus one large mum (a $7 value) and one large pumpkin (a $7 value) at Susanna Farms (a $20 total value) in Lake Villa, about an hour north of downtown Chicago. The farm is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through the end of October.
Susanna Farms began in the 1930s and has since been passed down through the family to the Heffernans, who band together each year to plant, cultivate, and whisper encouraging messages for pumpkins to just be themselves. A trip to the 55-acre working farm offers a chance to see the brilliant yellows and oranges of turning fall leaves, and keeps homes and festive sports cars decked with natural, locally grown holiday decor. In addition to taking home both a handsome chrysanthemum and a pumpkin, your Groupon takes you on a hayride through Susanna Farms' woods, pulled behind an antique crank-start tractor. A labyrinth of 10-foot-tall pre-popcorn plants provides a formidable challenge to adults and children on stilts, while a kids' mini-maze separates the toddlers from the grade-schoolers.
On top of the activities and homegrown goods, visitors are subject to heart-theft by the adorable hooves and soulful eyes of a retired race horse, two Scottish Highland beef cattle, a lamb, piglets, chickens, and goats. If wandering through the cornstalks and pumpkin patch works up a hunger, Susanna Farms offers a menu of comestibles available for purchase, including brats, burgers, taffy apples, pumpkin muffins, and apple cider.
When SJ and May O'Bryan purchased 300 acres of northern Illinois farmland in the 1930s, they saw it as a refuge where they and their five children could occasionally escape the bustle of life in Chicago. Memories of summers spent on the farms stuck with Betty—SJ and May's second-oldest daughter—so strongly that after her parents willed 50 acres of land to each of their children, she and her husband Dan decided to continue the farm's legacy by opening their parcel to the public. Today, Betty and Dan ensure that Susanna Farms remains a family affair, enlisting the help of their numerous children and grandchildren as they plant and maintain the pumpkin fields and prepare for October's Fall Festival. The farm is also open for special events throughout the year, and on weekends during the Fall Festival.
In keeping with the O'Bryans' original vision, Susanna Farms still provides a year-round, provincial escape for crowds seeking a break from daily routines. The acres teem with homegrown pumpkins, colorful mums, and bundled cornstalks as well as big-horned Scottish Highland cattle, quarter horses, miniature donkeys, Shetland sheep, and other farm animals. From atop an antique, crank-start tractor, visitors can take a hayride to see the pumpkin patches and the surrounding woods. Once the corn reaches a suitable height, the family works together to design a maze that challenges visitors' ability to eat their way out of a labyrinth.
During horseback-riding lessons, adults and children ride through a grassy corral on purebred rescue horses, many of which have sustained and recovered from injuries that prevent them from competing as show horses. For example, Lady, a quarter horse, has been shown in dressage and hunter jumper events, but after healing from an injury, provides beginning lessons to students of all ages.