Six years ago, Michael Phillips was a young man looking for a career. The son of a farmer, he knew how difficult it can be for small farms to turn a profit, so he looked at his options.
In his early 20s, Phillips took a loan from his dad and went the so-called agri-entertainment route, turning a section of the former tobacco farm into a family fun center complete with a corn maze, pumpkins and more.
There's a four-acre corn maze to navigate; a jumping pillow for kids and adults; farm animals to feed; and slides built on the side of an old combine. Parents and kids can compete with each other along the pedal cart race track. There are hayrides to a pumpkin patch and several ways to chuck or launch pumpkins and corn. The four-acre maze takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk through, Phillips said. A series of questions help people find their way out.
At night, the farm turns spooky with four haunted elements that are probably best for teens and up. They open for the season on Friday.
This season, Phillips opened a new 2,000-square-foot fun house with a carnival theme that's designed for all ages, though note that there are strobe lights and some enclosed spaces that might cause worries for some kids. Visitors walk through a series of rooms - from one with a maze of doors to a bounce bridge to a glow-in-the-dark bubble room.
I walked through the house with my nine-year-old on Thursday. Most memorable for us were the curtains of chaos, a kind of maze with curtains at every turn, and the claustrophobia bag, which is basically like walking through two inflatables that close behind you as you push through. (I can understand why it's called the claustrophobia bag!).
The fun house turns into the spooky Top House Horror in the evening. Keen Designs, a professional designer of haunted houses and fun houses, created and installed the fun house and revamped the farm's Gore House, another haunted attraction. The haunted pieces also include a scary walk through the maze and a field.
Phillips has more plans for the farm in the future. The fun park is open for play during strawberry season in the spring. And he plans to move his popular Christmas tree patch from Highway 55 to the farm in 2015.
Phillips said business really picked up last season.
"I think a lot of people finally found me and realized how close it is," he said. "If you come here with a good attitude and ready to just play, you're going to have a good time."
Phillips works hard to make the farm affordable for families. Tickets for the daytime attractions are $10 for adults; $6 for kids 3 to 12; and free for kids age 2 and under. Haunted farm tickets are $20 total for all of the attractions. The farm offers hot dogs, burgers and snacks as well. And even those prices are affordable - $1.50 for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a hot dog, $1 for soda or water.
Phillips said he hasn't changed his price since he opened and doesn't plan to.
"I plan to keep adding [attractions] and keep the same price," he said.
Phillips Farm is open through Nov. 2 this season. Hours are 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday. Birthday parties, field trips and special event packages also are available. The haunted farm is open 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays through the last weekend in October.
Phillips Farms is at 6701 Good Hope Church Rd. in Cary.