by David Lehan
If you’ve ever driven across the Midwest, then you have witnessed the enormous fields of corn—fields that envelop the interstate and stretch as far as the eye can see. Grown on nearly 350,000 farms nationwide, corn is the United States’ largest crop. Why is it so popular? Well, for starters, corn as a plant is extremely adaptable and easy to grow and harvest.
Corn has received a lot of negative publicity lately. Its growth is heavily subsidized by the federal government, which offers a guarantee of payment to the farmer who dedicates his land to this particular crop. This has led to overabundance, to the point where much of the corn crop is destroyed each year. With overproduction also comes the need for creativity in the end uses; thus corn is now used as a feed substitute for livestock and poultry and a sugar substitute in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Neither of these is necessarily bad in and of itself, but the uniquely American mentality of “a little is good, more must be better” has proven to be flawed logic. Misuse and overconsumption of corn products are suspected to be root causes of many of the health issues so prevalent in our society today.
That said, the corn that you find at your local farmers’ market or grocery store is completely different from the corn that artificially fattens our meat or sweetens our juice and soda. Field or dent corn makes up most of what is grown in the Midwest, while sweet corn is the variety commonly found on the dinner table. Much of the sweet corn available in our area is grown locally, which means that it is fresher and has less chance of becoming contaminated while in transit from field to table.
Corn on the cob is delicious. Melt a little butter and add some salt and you have a wonderful compliment to any barbecue. It really doesn’t matter if it’s boiled, grilled, steamed, or even microwaved—corn is a tasty addition to a summer meal. On top of that, it’s good for you: low in fat, with relatively high amounts of protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber. Not bad for a side dish.
You can drive through certain sections of Halifax, Middleboro, or Plympton and see the same endless fields of corn that you’d encounter on midwestern highways, except that these are sweet corn fields. Growers such as the Nessralla, Sauchuk, and Freitas families are known throughout the region for their delicious summer crops.
Darcy Freitas of Middleboro’s Freitas Farm says that corn makes up about 60% of her annual crop, about 42 out of 70 acres. A huge hit at the 17 farmers’ markets Freitas attends each week, sweet corn is a significant contributor to the farm’s income. Plus, Freitas’ crop (like most local corn) is free from genetic modification and the overuse of chemicals often found in more commercial products. “It’s just regular, awesome, super-sweet corn,” she says. “We don’t do anything weird to it.”
You can feel good about buying local corn because it supports our communities and keeps the money spent close to home. Buying directly from the farmer—at the farm stand or farmers’ market—means you’re putting money right into the farmer’s pockets, helping our local agricultural scene to thrive, while promoting the preservation of farmland and other green spaces.
It stands to reason that if your food is produced across town rather than across the country, there is less of an environmental impact. Reducing the time needed to bring the product to the consumer also means that the corn doesn’t need to be picked until it is fully mature. Thus, local corn is more likely to be packed with nutrients and offer the richest, most fulfilling taste.
So enjoy some seasonal local corn guilt-free. Not only is it nutrient-dense and delicious, but the benefits to our communities’ hard-working farmers are immeasurable.
Watch for a feature article on this topic in a future issue of eSS.
32 Wood Street
Middleboro, MA 02346
318 Plymouth Street
Halifax, MA 02338
53 Palmer Road
Plympton, MA 02367
WHILE THE GETTIN’ IS GOOD
by Paula Marcoux
Whether you grow it or buy it, local corn is available for an all-too-brief time. Here are two strategies for getting the most out of a short season:
1. Buy in bulk and squirrel it away for winter. Talk to your farmer about a volume discount and spend a few hours stocking your freezer with autumn gold. Husk ears and steam or boil in the usual way until just tender. Spread out ears to cool quickly, then slice off the kernels (or prep them cream-style; see corn oyster recipe below). Pack in zipper-lock bags, squeezing out all the air, and freeze. Cackle in a miserly fashion every time you open the freezer and behold your cache.
2. Gorge yourself on fresh corn while it’s here. With any luck you’ll tire of it after six weeks or so, taking the edge off the eventual downer when corn season comes to its inevitable close. Enjoy it straight up or try a new recipe every day. Here’s a classic to get you started, from Plymouth home cook Marion Crocker.