Late summer, in a landscape surrounded by fields of ripe yellow corn, sweeter than most of what the average American will put on their dinner plate, all I really need is a generous pat of real butter to satisfy my desire to prolong the feeling of summer.
Cruising through one small town after another, in rural Ohio, I suspected that I wasn’t the only city dweller to be seeking an escape from the day-to-day grind of honking horns and hipster menus. What I didn’t expect was that 10 minutes from the Millersport Sweet Corn Festival traffic would come to a screeching halt.
I should have been at the festival by now. Although I didn’t anticipate anything more than a Port-a-John when I got there, I’d thought there was plenty of time to get to the front gate, pay my admission, and find out. Instead, I was sitting patiently in a long line of cars, all headed to the same place, with my legs crossed. Traffic wasn’t going anywhere. Drivers were patient, as if they had been here before, and had made the necessary preparations. Not me. I spotted a gas station up ahead, recruited my passenger to take the wheel, and hopped out of the car to make a run for the gas station bathroom.
“Chinese Fire Drill!” was shouted from the truck behind me. Call it what you will. . . I’d been on good behavior all afternoon, drinking my 6 8-oz glasses of water before work ended that day. I’d purchase whatever I needed to (Sriracha peanuts, frozen snickers bars, Laffy Taffy, . . . ) to make it Okay to use the gas station restroom. Who knew how much longer it was going to take to drive the last mile to get to the festival!?
When we arrived, the festival was in full swing! A few things I learned about sweet corn, on the corn festival website:
- There is one strand of silk for each kernel on a cob.
- On average there are about 800 kernels on an ear of corn.
- An ear of corn always has even number rows.
- One acre of land can produce 14,000 pounds of sweet corn.
As for the success of this local festival, and the community’s love of its sweet corn, festival organizers report: “Consumption of fresh sweet corn has grown to the point that we need to truck the fresh sweet corn in by the semi-trailer loads and boil the corn in 2,000 gallon propane heated vats during this 4-day event.”
In years past, until today’s corn husker was acquired in 1963, the ears of fresh sweet corn were husked by farmers, workers and volunteers, by hand. Today, the corn is hauled off of trucks in large bushels. It is fed into a towering machine by the bushel, mechanically husked, then caught one at a time by farm hands, who pass it along to be cleaned up, cooked and bathed in large vats of hot, melted butter. Yum! With the growth of the festival, even with the mechanized help, it’s still “all hands on deck”, as multiple generations come together to make this event a success!
Since I’m pretty much a city girl, the little things about these small town festivals are a vacation from the ordinary. I’m reminded of sticky childhood summers, wrapped up in sugary cotton candy, lots of taffy and cinnamon dusted elephant ears. I remember watching pig races and log tosses at the blueberry festival in Bass Lake, IN. My family had a summer cottage there, which opened up just for the summer, so we could all enjoy the beach access, early evening drives around the lake, and trips just up the road for soft serve ice cream.
What says summer more than a tilt-a-whirl, Ferris wheel, or bumper cars? Perhaps the only thing more representative of lazy summer nights is sitting amongst neighbors in lawn chairs, set in front of a small wooden stage. Local “talent” keeps festival goers entertained, with everything from tap dance to live rock bands and banjo players. Games of chance line the midway, and the boy scouts and charity groups are selling everything from shredded cream chicken to homemade pies. If you’ve landed out in the country, as I had, there’s a good chance you’ll also witness a tractor pull.
I heard the BINGO game before I saw it, with “B-6” being called into a small, crackling microphone and broadcast with the help of a portable speaker. Numbers flashed up on an old-school display, mounted to the wall, and lit from behind. Long tables sat under the pavilion, as town locals and visitors sat side-by-side, using dried pieces of corn to mark their BINGO cards.
This was all for fun, and maybe to take home a few extra dollars in cash, if you were lucky enough to win back the fee you paid to play. This was not the stuff of competitive BINGO regulars, monitoring 2 dozen cards lined up in rows, seated in their “lucky seat” in the church basement. There were no multi-colored BINGO daubers, with glitter, metallic ink, or neon colors, to stand out for easy monitoring, allowing players to ink their cards at top speed. This was the sweet corn festival in Millersport, OH – of course we used small pieces of dried corn. I didn’t get to shout “BINGO!”, and my gambling money disappeared quickly, but it was an entertaining night, worth the price of admission.
Behind all of the fun and games, there’s a seriousness that surrounds this festival too. A way of life revolves around the corn grown in fields across the Midwest. Over the years I’ve crossed many miles by bike, kept company by ears of corn. They are everywhere, and they are surprisingly good listeners.
“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.”
~ Ann Bronte, English novelist and poet
Agriculture drives this community. Something as simple as corn is transformed into an alternate resource, into a source of income. It is nourishment, and it brings together the community for a long weekend of fun to end the summer. Corn is ubiquitous in the lives of Midwesterners, for better or for worse. This festival celebrates that!
The Corniest of Corn Jokes:
Q: What did the corn say when he got complimented?
A: Aww, shucks
Q: What did the baby corn say to the mom corn?
A: Where is my pop corn?
Q: Why didn’t anyone laugh at the gardener’s jokes?
A: Because they were too corny!
As I’m making my way through the festival, I glance about and see a display of the area’s history. In an old newspaper I read: “Not a Dream, but an actual Reality”. It’s an advertisement for Fairfield Beach, a town near Buckeye Lake, just outside of Millersport. It’s a call to move to this growing area. It’s a small slice of rural Midwest, being celebrated in its infancy, and offering the promise of a bright future!
Join me on the next adventure,
Millersport Sweet Corn Festival: http://sweetcornfest.com/
Antique Tractor Pull (1959 & Under): http://sweetcornfest.com/SCFTractorPull.html
Ohio Festivals & Events Association: http://ofea.org/
Ohio Festival & Event List: http://ofea.org/festivals-and-events/full-event-list.html
Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association: http://www.ohiocornandwheat.org/
Health Benefits of Corn (Organic Facts): https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/cereal/health-benefits-of-corn.html
National Corn Growers Association: http://www.ncga.com/home