July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Sweet kernels of goodness

HARRISVILLE TWP. — You think you have wildlife issues in your sweet corn patch? Multiply them times 100 and you’ve got an idea of what summers are like for Hall Growers at Garden Isle Farm.

If you buy an ear of sweet corn at a local roadside stand and it wasn’t grown on the spot, there’s a good chance it came from the rich, black soil of Dewey Hall’s farm on Garden Isle Road. He plants 100 acres of sweet corn each season — supplying markets, produce
auctions and Miller Brothers SuperValu in Lodi, with fresh corn picked daily.

A late-spring frost singed the first four plantings this year, ruining about 60 percent of the early crop, but subsequent sowings have fared better. Hall puts in 18 plantings, spaced through the summer, which produce sweet corn into the third week of September.

Jeremy Hall holds a handful of fresh Garden Isle Farm sweet cornHall Growers at Garden Isle Farm plants eight varieties of sweet corn on 100 acres each season. (John Gladden/Gazette)

Along the way, like all farmers, he’s following the weather’s lead and trying to stay ahead of the birds, deer and raccoons that share our taste for the golden summer treat.

“We’re just like backyard gardeners,” said Hall, 55. “We have the same problems they do and combat all the same pests.” Blackbirds are especially troublesome.

“They’ll just peck the end of the ear,” he said. “We lose a lot of corn to birds.”

In 2007, wind and hail took a bite, too. The same August storm that destroyed barns at the Indoe family farm to the north, wreaked havoc at Hall’s, too — knocking down a grain bin, lifting a shed out of the ground and devastating the corn.

“It flattened about 60 acres of sweet corn for me that year,” he recalled. “We had a beautiful crop until that went through.”

Hall plants eight varieties of sweet corn, since different types do better in different time frames during the season. Beginning at 7 a.m., he harvests between one and two acres each day. The farm uses a specialized mechanical harvester that covers four rows at a time, but with a hand-picked touch.

“It actually rolls the ear off the stalk, like you would with your hand,” Hall said.

Wagons bring the corn to a 100- by 80-foot pole building for washing and sorting. Hall employs 10 to 12 seasonal workers who pack five dozen ears to a bag for pickup by market sellers.

Before sweet corn, Hall grew up to 350 acres of potatoes per year, but a 1989 fire destroyed their buildings and equipment.

“We were pretty devastated,” he said. “It was our livelihood.”

From the ashes of the fire sprouted sweet corn. It began with Hall’s sons, Jason and Jeremy, peddling it around Lodi from a wagon when they were 11 or 12 years old.

“It just kind of took off,” said Hall, whose family operates its own roadside produce stand on state Route 83.

Today, Jeremy, 28, and Jason, 30, represent the fourth generation of Halls farming the land their great-grandfather came to as a sharecropper in the 1930s.

Garden Isle is one of the most aptly named roads in the county. The muck soil there — up to 130 feet deep in some places, Hall said — has long been known for its productive vegetable crops. Rich in organic matter, the good soil makes things grow faster and taste better, he added.

The Halls farm 1,600 acres, including field corn, soybeans, pick-your-own pumpkins and, of course, the sweet corn — which makes its way to Hall’s dinner table at least a couple of times per week.

“I like to take it home to be my own quality-control, to know what I’m selling,” he said.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.