My sister Jessica and her daughters come to visit us every summer from California. For a week, we enjoy the miss and you’ll blink it Chicago summertime, spending lazy days at the pool, and showing these California girl that the Midwest is not the worst place in the world to live. This year, their visit coincided with a generous invitation by Katie Pratt to come to her farm and see a real corn boil.
All the children, whether from California or Chicago, were thrilled for their farm adventure.
When I first moved to the Midwest, I was mesmerized by the oceans of corn fields. As soon as you drive out of the city, the corn stretches as far as the eye can see, melting into a golden horizon. It’s beautiful and dangerously hypnotic on long drives.
I used to think that all of this corn was edible, but I went on a few farm trips to Iowa with the Iowa corn association and learned about the differences between seed corn and sweet corn. But my 10 year old niece was much more informed. She already knew all about the power of corn. At school, she had learned that corn can be turned into plastic, and is used for much more than food. The younger kids hadn’t given corn much thought, other than expressing a preference for on the cob or off the cob.
Once we arrived on the farm, they saw that the sweet corn and the popcorn made up just a few rows in the field near the farm. The Pratt kids plant the popcorn themselves, selling the rainbow kernels as a special project, a little more involved than my kids’ lemonade stand. The rest of the corn, thousands and thousands of rows, as many as the eye could see, were full of seed corn, to power cars, feed animals, and make sugar. Seeing it first hand was powerful.
We walked through the aisles of sweet corn and popcorn, all the way to the edge of the nearest field corn. We learned about tassels and pollination. We picked some ears and saw the damage that raccoons can do. We saw the flourishing weeds under the popcorn, the only type of corn grown from a non-roundup ready seed. The politics of corn, genetically modified foods, and agriculture in general are so heated. It’s important to step away from the newspapers and the internet and just go see it for yourself, meet the people in the debate.
For the kids, the trip wasn’t about politics. It was about making new friends with the Pratt children, seeing kids their age responsible enough to drive tractors and be fully responsible to bring a calf to market. They talked about hobbies, what time they get up for school, and compared 4-H to girl scouts. Then we all shucked and bagged corn together, eating a lot of corn along the way.
We left a few hours later, with full bellies and the car filled with corn, promising to do it again soon, to get the kids back together in the fall. We live so close to each other, less than two hours away, yet our lives our so different. As the politics of food continue to heat up, as we consider the latest food labeling act before congress, as we struggle over public concerns over GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, and the environment, forging these bonds between city and country can only help. Replacing fear with discourse, getting to know the farmers who dedicate their lives to growing food, is the only way to make informed change in our food supply. Doing it over sweet corn just makes it more delicious.
- 15-20 ears of corn from your local farmer's market
- Boil the largest pot of water you own.
- Shuck the corn.
- Boil it for 10 minutes.
- Run it under cold water.
- Cut the kernels off the corn and bag in quart sized ziplocs.
- Freeze the ziplocs and use once summer is just a memory.