Corn; it's tough to grow, but how sweet it is!

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Tue., Jul. 26, 2011
Abby and Keri Hustus sell flowers for Woodstock Farms.
Abby and Keri Hustus sell flowers for Woodstock Farms.

Rachel Fraleigh sat on the tailgate of her pickup truck at the Danielson Farmers' Market on July 23. Bins of Swiss chard, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash were spread out before her. Pints of blueberries beckoned shoppers. Around her were the booths of 11 other farmers who make up the Northeast Connecticut Farmers' Market. When asked if she had any sweet corn to sell, she turned from farmer into teacher.

“Let me tell you about the fight for corn,” she said. “People have no idea how hard you have to struggle to grow sweet corn. It's one of the worst things there is to grow.” She rattled off the requirements for growing it. Because people want early corn, you have to establish yourself in the market by planting in May. Half of the seed is lost to cold ground, she said.

With seed costs ranging from $10 to $12 per pound and the cost of fertilizer up 300 percent, and the cold weather that can destroy large portions of the crop, farmers are at a disadvantage from the beginning.

When the seedlings that do survive come up about an inch and a half, the crows discover them. “The crows will eat just the spike. They will eat the seed right out and kill the plant,” said Fraleigh who has lost two-thirds of what came up to the creatures. “How they know it, I don't know.”

“You've got some diseases that will knock down a few stalks, unless you really spray heavy, and I don't. So you're going to lose some stalks. Now you've got corn on the cob that's almost ready to pick, when the wrens and the blue jays get to it. They get right on the ear of corn and they pick at the top of it. No one is going to buy an ear that is picked at at the top.

“Okay, so you have all this damaged stuff at the top, which you cannot sell because everyone wants it perfect. Then the raccoons will come at night and go down the rows.  They'll rip the ears right off and eat a portion of it and go back to the next stalk. You can loose four or five dozen ear of corn in an hour.

“If you can reap one third of what you can plant, you're doing darned good. By the time you get corn to the market you have lost and lost and lost. Just to make it feasible and worth the planting, we have to have a price that covers the cost and make a little bit of profit.”

Farmers' market corn is hand picked as opposed to machine picked. “They [machines] can pick an acre in two hours, Fraleigh said. “It takes me two days to pick an acre of corn. That's why corn is the price it is. We're not making a big dollar off it. As a matter of fact, it's one of the lower values. I make more on cucumbers than corn.”

There was sweet corn available that day for 50 cents an ear. A “Connecticut Grown” sign hung on a steel bin with what remained after customers had gone through it. I can attest to this: it was absolutely delicious. It was worth every cent.

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