MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — This is sweet corn season, and that means Ethan Crow and his family are busy.
“It’s eight weeks of very focused work,” Crow says of the time of year. “We work six days a week and we pick every single morning.”
That’s just the way it is when you sell sweet corn.
Ethan works with his parents and his grandfather at Long-Crow Farms, where the family grows a number of products. They have corn, soybeans and cattle. There is wheat and garden crops. But what they are best known for is Long’s Sweet Corn, which they sell at a roadside stand and in a local farmer’s market.
The family has 13 acres of sweet corn this year, and they planted at eight different times to make sure they have ripe corn throughout the season, which is just starting. Their truck and sign are familiar sights in town.
It started many years ago, when Clair Long planted a few acres.
“I needed a few bucks,” Clair says with a laugh as he recalls the start of his family’s entrance into the sweet corn market. “I planted some old 4th of July corn.”
Clair, who at 92 is still involved in the business, says that first effort more than 60 years ago wasn’t very successful.
“I didn’t sell any that first year,” he says. “The raccoons ate it all up.”
But he tried again the next year and things worked out better. Soon it became an important part of the family farm business, and the same customers began to come back year after year to buy from him. Eventually his daughter and son-in-law, Lorraine and Ron, came into the business. Today, his grandson Ethan is involved. And through it all, they say the emphasis is on flavor and texture. Those items are more important than yield when picking what varieties to plant.
“We buy top-notch seed,” Ron says, adding that the fertility program is similar to that for field corn.
For a few years they sold their sweet corn in local stores, but eventually they decided to eliminate the middleman and just sell directly to consumers.
There are unique challenges with growing sweet corn and the approach of selling directly to the public. Anyone growing sweet corn knows they must deal with pests like raccoons. Worms are also an issue. Weather is a challenge with any crop. And dealing with the public means the emphasis is always on quality and taste.
But the effort allows them to connect with the community. They talk about families that have been buying sweet corn and melons from them for several generations. There are customers who have moved out of state, but who make a point of returning during sweet corn season so they can take some back home with them.
“They gotta come back to Iowa to get their sweet corn,” Clair says.
That, he says, is just the way it is in the sweet corn business.
“It’s just part of summer,” Ron says.