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Enjoy a Stroll Through a Sunflower Maze

by Lisa Diggs

Imagine a flower as big as your head. Now imagine it towering over you from atop its giant stalk. Those are the kinds of images Ray Peltier had in mind when he conceived of a sunflower maze as a new attraction at his orchard in Jeddo, near the base of Michigan’s Thumb, a few years back.

As a relatively new owner of McCallum’s Orchard and Cider Mill, Ray did a lot of research to try to come up with something new and different to delight families who would visit. He was inspired to create a sunflower maze by a story he came across, but conceiving of an idea and implementing it are hardly one and the same. It took a lot of work to figure out how to grow and maintain sunflowers of different varieties so little ones and their grownup friends will all find a few with which they can stand eye to eye, or at least head to head. This year’s maze features 15 different varieties. Strolling through is truly an enchanting experience for kids and kids at heart.

When Ray and his wife, Laurie, bought the orchard, they had relatively little experience with an operation of this magnitude, but Ray told me he knew he wanted to bring this iconic fixture in the neighborhood back and create something special for his community. He turned to an old friend and grandson of the original proprietor, Marvin MaCallum.

The McCallum family had sold the orchard about twelve years prior to someone else, and had watched it fall into disrepair. Ray, a military veteran, had met Marvin McCallum not long after he got out of the service. He asked for Marvin’s help to figure out how to get ancient apple trees in his deer woods to produce apples again. Marvin taught him how to do it. Who could’ve imagined over a decade later that the two would work together again? That’s exactly what happened. Marvin McCallum, now in his 80s, pitched in as a consultant to help the Peltiers bring back the orchard his grandfather had planted back in 1931.    

Sadly, after clearing out a lot of overgrown areas, they discovered that about 500 hundred of the trees were dead. Fortunately, many others could be cultivated again and harvested. There were also opportunities to plant other crops on the land. When opening day at the cider mill returned in 2017, so did several of the families who had longed for McCallum’s to show signs of its former glory. The lines were so long on opening weekend that the donut quantity even ran short. In a neighborly gesture, Blake’s Orchard pitched in to help refill the donut supply.

Today, McCallum’s is thriving again with plenty to see, taste, and do. In addition to exploring a maze of sunflowers, there’s also a more traditional corn maze in the fall. There’s over an acre of pumpkin patch of both pie and jack-o-lantern sizes. From mid-April through October, there is always something you can pick yourself ranging from morels and asparagus in the spring, to cherries and berries in summer, to pears and grapes in fall, and plenty of others in between. Of course, apples abound. Pick your own or just pick a peck. In liquified from you can find them by the gallon, as a slushie, or as one of eight different fruit wines available this year. There’s also a Kids Zone with playground equipment and a petting farm.

You can’t make a visit to any orchard or mill without craving some of that delicious cider to wash down scrumptious donuts. The latter of which are baked daily. Flavors include cinnamon sugar, cherry, blueberry, and pumpkin. The on-site market also includes fresh fruit, honey, condiments, popcorn, candy, soda, wine, and lots of other delights for sale.

Make a trip out to MaCallum’s. There’s smiling sunflowers and friendly people waiting to greet you…and donuts! 

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