Black Island Farms carries on without Farmer Charlie

Black Island Farms carries on without Farmer Charlie

Story by Becky Cairns , Standard-Examiner staff - Sep 20 2013 - 1:09am
(BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
The 28-acre corn maze at Black Island Farms in Syracuse is shown from the air. This year’s maze features images of a dirt bike and monster truck.
(BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Dorathy Law
(BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Sergio Morales picks a pumpkin to take home during a field trip to Black Island Farms. The farm is best known for the corn maze, but also features hayrides, animals, and games.
(BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Emely Garcia (left) and Tea Dzokic catch aride out to the pumpkin patch during a field trip to the farm.
(BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)
Bellerae Schulte (left) and Baela Din play on swings during a field trip to Black Island Farms in Syracuse.

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SYRACUSE — A Cow Belly Bouncer jumps onto the scene at the Black Island Farms Harvest Festival this season, along with some scary new encounters in the haunted Nightmare Acres.

But the biggest change at the annual Syracuse attraction is not what has been added — it’s what is missing.

This is the harvest festival’s first year without its founder, Charles F. Black, who died unexpectedly in an automobile accident on July 6.

Carrying on without Farmer Charlie, as Black was affectionately known, falls to his daughter Dorathy Law and her family, who are managing the operation of the 280-acre vegetable farm at 3178 S. 3000 West.

“We’ve got big shoes to fill and we’re going to continue the legacy,” says Law as the autumn venue opens today, Sept. 20, for another year.

Black started the farm 55 years ago, but plowed into agritainment — farm-related entertainment — just nine years ago. As small family farms struggle to survive in today’s economic climate, Law says, her father anticipated opening Black Island for a Halloween-themed event might be a trend that would help it survive.

So the hayrides and pig races and straw slides are back for 2013, along with a small memorial to Charles Black.

Law says she will post some old photos of her father and some letters her family has received about him since his death, most likely in the farmers market.

“I didn’t want to make it a sad thing ... day by day, it’s still hard enough,” she says. But the memorial will be something that visitors or friends can look at to “have a moment and remember Farmer Charlie,” she says.

A man remembered

These days, it’s difficult not seeing her 75-year-old dad working around the farm, but Law says, at the same time, the memories of him are “what keeps us going.”

Charlie Black’s love and passion for his farm and for open spaces has been passed on to his family, Law says. Everything she and husband Brandon Law and son Tilar Law, 20, do at the farm centers around a single focus.

“We always ask ourselves: What would Charlie do?” she says.

The opening of the 2013 harvest festival will be hard because Law knows this is the first chance many folks will have to talk to her about her father.

Yet she also looks forward to hearing those stories and new perspectives about Black. Some folks have already spoken to her, for instance, about how they used to work on the farm with her dad when they were just kids.

“The stories and the pictures that are coming out are just amazing,” Law says.

Although Black was a staple of the harvest festival, he mostly worked behind the scenes, his daughter says. You might find him stocking the farmers market with produce or creating educational signs about the vegetables and animals.

“He loved to meet the people who came,” Law says. “He loved the little kids. And he loved being called Farmer Charlie.”

Making tracks

No dramatic changes have been made in the current edition of the festival, which runs through Oct. 31.

“We’re sticking to the roots and our heritage this year, and keeping things simple so we can make sure we can continue our event,” Law says.

This year’s corn maze is carved in a Monster Trakker truck design, reflecting the farm’s partnership with Maverik, Law says.

Yes, the maze is a challenge to navigate, but to a person like herself — with a poor sense of direction — Law says, “They’re all hard. I go in there and I don’t know where I’m at. It’s just a big cornfield as far as I’m concerned.”

That new Cow Belly Bouncer fits in perfectly with the farm theme and is a giant bounce house set in a bovine tummy. It replaces a huge pumpkin bouncer, which Law says “went down last year.”

At haunted Nightmare Acres, some new characters are moving in to dole out the scares, and a creepy dental room has been added.

“And I’m petrified of the dentist, so it’s a good one,” Law says.

Creating the attraction’s scary scenes is fun, she says, because it gets the creative juices flowing: “You start thinking of these weird, morbid things you wouldn’t normally think about,” Law says with a laugh.

A tradition lives on

When her dad first came up with the idea of opening a haunted farm for Halloween, Law admits she was skeptical that anyone would want to visit a festival staged on an ordinary, working vegetable farm.

“Then, to my surprise, we all fell in love with it,” she says.

Now, following in the big footsteps of Farmer Charlie won’t be easy but Law says, “We most definitely are determined to do it.”

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns.

If you go

  • What: Black Island Farms Harvest Festival
  • Where: 3178 S. 3000 West, Syracuse
  • Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays, 10 a.m.-midnight Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 20-21, Sept. 27-Oct. 31. Haunted Nightmare Acres open 7 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday and 7-10 p.m. Thursdays in October. A craft fair takes place Oct. 17-19, with an appearance by the Maverik Monster Truck.
  • Admission: Combo pass: $21. Maze and hayride: $16/adults, $11/children. Maze: $11/adults, $9/children, free/2 and younger. Hayrides: $9/adults, $6/children, free/2 and younger. Nightmare Acres: $16.
  • Information: 801-774-MAZE or


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