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An End-Of-Summer Appreciation Of Sweet Corn, In All Of Its Multi-Colored Glory

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Amy Mayer
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Harvest Public Media
The last Friday of the Iowa State Fair is free sweet corn day.

Even though the Midwest is tops in field corn production and grows row after row of it, these states don’t stand out when it comes to national production of sweet corn. 

But for many in the region, nothing says summer quite like a fresh hot ear of sweet corn — plain, buttered or salted.

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Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media
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Harvest Public Media

On the final Friday of the 2019 Iowa State Fair, more than 1,200 ears of donated sweet corn were boiled and handed out for free to anyone who waited in line. Volunteer Mary Smith had the job of squirting margarine on the corn, though she said with a chuckle that she’s in the minority: she doesn’t like any butter on her corn. 

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Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media
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Harvest Public Media

Deal’s Orchard displays the variety of sweet corn it’s selling at the Ames Farmers Market. Christy Deal completes an order for a customer. Her husband, Benji Deal, says Kristine has been a consistently sweet and tender variety. Most of his customers don’t pay attention to the name, though. They’re more likely to have a color request, such as all yellow. 

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Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media
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Harvest Public Media

Yellow, bi-color and white varieties wait to be purchased at the Olson Family Farm booth at the Ames Farmers Market. Ray Olson says he plants six varieties every year that he selects for taste, length of time needed to reach maturity and ability to stay fresh from harvest until sale. His most popular seller is the bi-color. 

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Credit Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media
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Harvest Public Media

Glenda Stormes-Bice of Ames, Iowa, picks through corn to select the smallest ears, which she says taste a little sweeter and don’t get stuck in her teeth as much. She keeps a stick of (vegan) butter in her freezer all summer so she can easily slather it on each ear of hot corn she pulls from her microwave. 

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Credit Elias Caissie / For Harvest Public Media
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For Harvest Public Media

Yours truly stood in line for an ear of bi-color corn on the cob at the Iowa State Fair. Farmer Ron Deardorff of Adel, Iowa, who grew and donated the corn, wouldn’t say what variety it is; he says that’s proprietary information. Fairgoers snacthed up the free corn in less than 90 minutes. 

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
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