The Big Corn Paradox

Corn_field

Taken at just another huge, local corn field

This might be the best summer recipe ever:

Grilled Summer Corn

ingredients

  • Fresh picked corn, still in the husks
  • Sea Salt

method

Pick them. Grill them, ASAP, still in the husks. Eat them, maybe with a pinch of salt.

There’s nothing better than fresh corn. I absolutely love it, and I’m not alone. Everyone I know loves it. This time of year it’s one of the best selling item in the produce world. Peaches, cherries and corn; in the summer everything else is an also-ran.

I love corn but I don’t grow any. I need to grow corn but I can’t grow corn. Thinking about it hurts my brain.

Imagine a small town with a single male barber. Let’s say all the men are close shaven. Let’s also say this barber shaves all and only the men who don’t shave themselves. The question then becomes: Does this barber shave himself?

Alternatively, can an omnipotent being create a stone too heavy for her to lift?

On a tiny farm growing corn is a lot like that. It’s a paradox. People love corn. They crave it. And few things drive more foot traffic. We don’t have it and, as a result, half the people walk right past our stand. On the other hand, it takes a lot of land to grow and it has almost no economic value. In my day job I work at a large natural foods grocery. Right now we are selling corn 4 for $1. At the farmers’ market, the guys across the isle from us have gone as low as 50 ears for $5. We could conceivably plant our entire 1/8th acre farm to corn (we’d yield about 2,000 ears), wait an entire season, harvest it all at once, sell out in a day and generate less than $500. Corn is brutal! We gotta have it to drive traffic but if we do it’ll break us. Pure Paradox. This paradox is even harsher for organic corn. That’s why it’s so hard to find. What’s the best way to become a million dollar organic corn grower? Start with $10-million and a dream.

A lot of people workaround the corn paradox by reselling another grower’s corn. Small farmers, unable to commit adequate land for a corn crop but needing corn, sometimes buy it from a larger grower and sell it for a loss. It’s a risky game but often economically beneficial to a small grower. A lot of this business is about foot traffic.

Personally, we’ve never resold anything and not just because reselling in strictly forbidden at our farmers’ market. Really, it just doesn’t fit our sensibility. What’s the point in selling produce we didn’t grow? Instead we’ve chosen to not offer corn and suffer reduced foot traffic. So far it’s working out (probably because we’re having an outstanding tomato year). But in the future, when we expand and have some extra land to play with, I wonder if we’ll grow it. Maybe we can grow just enough to draw some people in. I wonder what we’ll choose.

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