Demand Soars in Madison as Sweet Corn Gets Sweeter | Economic news
Vicki Sheldon traveled in the rain on Friday to pick up two dozen cobs of sweet corn for herself, her son-in-law and her neighbor at Stoneman Family Farm in Fitchburg.
“I buy it twice a week,” she said. “I used to grow it myself, but it’s so much sweeter here now.”
Sheldon said she has been buying farmyard sweet corn, also known as Stoneman’s Famous Sweet Corn, for 10 years. During this time, she says, the harvest has become tastier.
“It’s sweeter,” she said. “We boil it, sometimes we throw it on the grill and I eat it with anything: steak, chicken.”
William Tracy, professor of agronomy at UW-Madison, has worked with sweet corn since 1984. He said the sweetness is no accident.
Sweet corn lost its sugar within days, whereas modern sweet corn retains its sugar much longer, he said.
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Although these “super sweet” varieties were first introduced in the 1980s, it took them about 20 years to catch on, he said.
“Modern sweet corn kernels don’t lose their sugar so quickly,” he said. “We researched how to achieve this and offered our solutions to the seed industry, which incorporated it into their breeding program and catalogue.”
Tracy has continued to work on improving sweet corn varieties and is currently working on a variety with a “crisp, like a honey apple crisp.”
‘Through the roof’
Stoneman farmer Kevin Oppermann said his fields have gotten bigger and his working days longer since he took over in 2002.
Sweeter harvests have created greater customer demand, he said.
“The demand for our sweet corn is at an all-time high, to the point that we have experienced continuous and significant expansion over the past four or five years,” Oppermann said. “Everyone comes here, and there’s no shortage of cars in the parking lot, even at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays.”
Susan Roque has purchased sweet corn her entire adult life and from Stoneman Family Farm for the past 15 years. The sweetness of the harvest is what keeps her coming back, she says.
“It’s better,” she said. “They invented all these hybrids and improved the sugar content.”
All about freshness
Joe Eugster, co-owner of the Eugster Farmer’s Market in Stoughton, said the sweet corn produced by his farm has seen similar changes. Additionally, he noticed that more Wisconsinans were buying products in general each year.
“There are definitely more people buying local products…our parking lot is full today,” Eugster said. “Our clientele is growing on the farm. And we sell a lot of corn – people buy an average of six to eight servings. »
Oppermann agreed that his clientele also seems more focused on fresh foods.
“People are looking to go to the farm and see where their food comes from,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting here…it’s a scenic place where people come to get their corn.”
It’s one of the reasons that sales of sweet corn are up in the Madison area even as they decline nationally. Across the country, traditionally popular vegetables like green beans and sweet corn are being replaced by new trends, like kale and beets, said Paul Mitchell, professor of agriculture and applied economics at UW-Madison. .
From 2010 to 2020, total national sweet corn production has declined by more than 25%, according to the University of Wisconsin.
“Madison is a growing population area and doing well economically and people here are focused on local foods,” Mitchell said. “We are a local island that bucks the national trend.”
Tracy suspects that sweet corn myths have led to a decline in interest in the crop nationwide. Sweet corn, he said, is considered a “starchy vegetable,” leading some to consider it unhealthy. But Tracy said he doesn’t think that’s true.
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“I really believe it’s a healthy culture,” Tracy said. “It contains the same amount of sugar as an apple, and lots of protein and antioxidants.
“I think we need to better understand its benefits to people’s health and well-being versus what’s stopping people from consuming it.”
Scott Alsum, co-owner of Alsum’s Sweet Corn in Randolph, has been selling sweet corn for 46 years. He said his business has grown tremendously, despite national trends and thanks to the ever-increasing quality of Wisconsin sweet corn.
When his father started harvesting sweet corn, Alsum said he was harvesting 5 acres of land. Now Alsum is working with 100 Acres. An ever-increasing number of places for sale has also helped Alsum grow. The farm sells wholesale, retail, to five roadside stands and three farmers’ markets, in addition to selling at their farm.
“The varieties are getting sweeter and better and the season is so short, so people love buying fresh sweet corn,” he said. “The demand has improved thanks to the quality. We continue to grow and grow.
Photos: Harvesting sweet corn at Stoneman Family Farms