“It’s the best time of the year,” says Vinton resident Kendra Spencer.
Spencer is referring to what many call “Sweet Corn Season,” the weeks in July and August when area farmers pluck ears from their fields and sell them by the dozen at Farmer’s Markets or from the back of pick-up trucks in area parking lots.
“As an Iowa girl, this has always been a treat for me,” says Spencer. “I have much respect for our farmers.”
And clearly, a drive though Vinton will indicate that it’s the middle of another Sweet Corn Season.
The Womochil family is selling their corn in the Casey’s parking lot. The Rippels have set up at the west end of town, in the Ehlinger’s 66 parking lot. Volunteers from Blessed Hope Church have sold it this week at Hummel Park on 5th Stret. And tonight, at the Thursday Farmer’s Market at the Depot, customers can expect to see sweet corn in multiple vendor booths. Mike Elwick sells it both at Old School Produce and from a vehicle at the John’s Qwik Stop parking lot. Others have set up booths in the area.
“My kids said it’s easy picking today,” said Hayley Rippel, whose sons Dylan, Tyler and Chase picked the corn this morning.
“The heat makes it come on,” says Rippel, whose family has made raising and selling sweet corn for more than a decade.
Like many farm children, sweet corn is a way for Rippel’s sons to make money
“They bag it at about 14 ears for $5, every summer for 2 weeks at the most. In that time span they can make up to $1,200 but they have to divide it three ways,” Rippel says.
The older boys, says their mother, use their share college spending money or put into savings accounts. Chase, the youngest, bought and X Box one summer.
“We have used the money for family vacations before when the boys were younger and Jeff and I had to help more,” says Rippel.
Rippel’s close friend Laurie Ortner also grew up raising and selling corn, and now is coordinating the effort of her three sons as they do it.
Ortner, the daughter of Bill and Teddi of rural Vinton, recalls the childhood days when she and her brother were doing what sons Brock, Brady and Brant are doing now.
“Here is the story for us and Newton’s sweet corn, says Laurie. “Chad and I would pick and sell the corn when we were little. We would use the money for our family vacation. I do believe back then 30-35 years ago we sold for $2.50 a dozen. Our grandparents lived out at the Bar Manor condos in West 3rd street. We would go door to door around the condos and neighborhood. Chad and I also sold over at our grandparent’s farm on Highway 150 near Urbana (where the Benton County Freedom Rock came from).
Now, says Ortner, it is the Newton’s grandchildren’s turn, and her sons and nieces have taken over.
“Still to this day the money goes to our family vacation,” says Ortner. “Back in 2013 when we all went on a cruise, the money we saved went to to pay for swimming with the dolphins in the Bahamas. When we go to Branson each year, it goes to White Water, Silver Dollar City and maybe a show. Grandpa and Grandma Newton have an account just for sweet corn. The boys and girls really enjoy it.”
The grandparents enjoy it too, says Ortner
Ortner said her father, Bill, plants his 11 and one-half acres of sweet corn seed in two-week intervals, so the Newton/Ortner sweet corn season gets extended a bit longer each summer.
“Dad says he gives more away then we sell,” says Ortner. “But to cover charge of seed, fertilizer and picking you really don’t make that much when charging $5 a dozen.”
When you look at sweet corn statistics in Iowa, you can understand why this is the favorite time of year for sweet corn lovers, and why so many drivers are putting on the brakes when they see it’s for sale.
Only about 3,000 acres in all of Iowa is planted with sweet corn, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association – that’s approximately one acre for every 1,000 Iowans.
See more information about sweet corn and its history HERE.