Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Knee-High by the Fourth of July

Wishwell Farms

If you live in Ohio, finding locally grown sweet corn during the dog days of summer is hardly a challenging feat. Visit any farmer’s market, grocery store, or roadside stand and you are bound to find ears of this beloved vegetable piled high. Although most of what you see lining our highways and byways are rows of field corn, not the variety we slather in butter and sprinkle with salt, Ohio has a well-earned reputation for growing its share of the sweet stuff too. My husband grew up with old adage that a farmer’s crop should be “knee-high by the fourth of July”. I questioned his theory, and in order to prove I was right, I mean…determine if knee-high is truly an acceptable height by our Nation’s birthday, I went straight to the source.

Northwest of Columbus, in Bellefontaine, I met with Jason Wish of Wishwell Farms. Wish is a fourth generation farmer whose great grandfather turned a handful of milk cows into a fruitful dairy business. The company expanded as they established their own bottling facility (known as Hopewell Dairy) and added a traditional grain operation into the mix. The Indianapolis and Bellefontaine (I&B) Railroad, which was formed in 1848, laid the tracks that became a key component in their success, but as Wish got older he aimed to leave his cow milking and hay bailing days behind him and set out to offer something new to his loyal customers. In the mid-90s, he decided to take a slightly different approach from his dairy-centric ancestors and plant a few acres of sweet corn to offset some of his college expenses. By the time he returned to the farm with his degree from The Ohio State University, focusing on Agricultural Business and Animal Science, he was ready to concentrate solely on growing produce.

As Jason Wish took me on a tour of his 75+ acre farm, 35 of which is planted with sweet corn varieties, I asked him the question to which I was so eager to hear the answer. He chuckled at the saying from my husband’s youth and explained how most years they hope to be picking sweet corn by the beginning of July and continue their harvest until the first frost in October. Thanks to new technology, sweet corn farmers can start planting much earlier in the season, and so he suggested the phrase should be altered to “head-high by the fourth of July”. We continued our tour (with me being satisfied that my suspicions were indeed correct), driving through the perfectly parallel rows as he described the numerous varieties of sweet corn, which types he chooses to grow, and how to tell when it’s ready to be harvested. Surprisingly, most sweet corn varieties only produce two ears of corn per stalk and commercial growers typically can only harvest one ear per plant because it is more developed. For this reason, a lot of acreage is needed to grow sweet corn, and although its footprint is large the reward is worth it. Wish ripped off an ear of his super sweet bi-color corn and let me sample the season’s bounty, raw and full of flavor.

You can find Wishwell Farms handpicked sweet corn at most farmer’s markets in Central Ohio. In fact, they participate in over twelve markets stretching five counties and accounting for ¾ of their business. In addition to the countless markets, you can also find their produce at the Wishwell Home Farm stand open Monday through Friday 9:30am-5:30pm and located just a few miles north of Bellefontaine. Besides sweet corn, they offer green beans, tomatoes, seedless watermelons, cantaloupe, peppers, eggplant, and in the fall pumpkins, gourdes, and squash varieties. In order to be streamlined and more efficient Wish said that he hasn’t added to the lineup of crops he grows to include any root vegetables, but mentioned as his 12 year old son becomes more curious about the family’s business to keep your eyes peeled for future offerings from the next generation of Wish farmers.

Sweet Corn

The Wishwell Farms sweet corn (pictured left) traveled 60 miles to Columbus, while the sweet corn (pictured right) states that it is a Product of USA, so its origin is unknown.

Sweet corn is at its peak during the most sultry days of summer and is packed full of fiber, potassium, and vitamin A. It is a phytonutrient-rich food that provides us with antioxidant benefits that vary within the varieties. White, yellow, or bi-color, my favorite way to eat it is raw and straight off the cob.

References

Benefits of Eating Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn Donuts with Salted Butter Frosting

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