Meet the farmer: Sweet corn from Wishwell Farms

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

If you live in Ohio, finding locally grown sweet corn during the dog days of summer is hardly a challenging feat. Visit any farmers market, grocery store or roadside stand and you are bound to find ears of this beloved vegetable piled high. Although most of what you see lining our highways and byways are rows of field corn, not the variety we slather in butter and sprinkle with salt, Ohio has a well-earned reputation for growing its share of the sweet stuff, too.

My husband grew up with an old adage that a farmer's crop should be knee-high by the fourth of July. I questioned his theory, and in order to prove I was right-I mean determine if knee-high is truly an acceptable height by our nation's birthday-I went straight to the source.

Northwest of Columbus, in Bellefontaine, I met with Jason Wish of Wishwell Farms. Wish is a fourth generation farmer whose great grandfather turned a handful of milk cows into a fruitful dairy business. The company expanded as they established their own bottling facility (known as Hopewell Dairy) and added a traditional grain operation into the mix.

As Wish got older, he aimed to leave his cow-milking and hay-bailing days behind and set out to offer something new to his loyal customers. In the mid-'90s, he decided to take a slightly different approach from his dairy-centric ancestors and plant a few acres of sweet corn to offset some of his college expenses. By the time he returned to the farm with his degree from Ohio State University, focusing on agricultural business and animal science, he was ready to concentrate solely on growing produce.

As Wish took me on a tour of his 75-plus-acre farm, 35 of which is planted with sweet corn varieties, I asked him the question to which I was so eager to hear the answer. He chuckled at the saying from my husband's youth and explained how most years they hope to be picking sweet corn by the beginning of July and continue their harvest until the first frost in October. Thanks to new technology, sweet corn farmers can start planting much earlier in the season, and so he suggested the phrase should be altered to "head-high by the fourth of July."

We continued our tour (with me being satisfied that my suspicions were indeed correct), driving through the perfectly parallel rows as he described the numerous varieties of sweet corn, which types he chooses to grow, and how to tell when it's ready to be harvested. Surprisingly, most sweet corn varieties only produce two ears of corn per stalk and commercial growers can typically harvest only one ear per plant because it is more developed. For this reason, a lot of acreage is needed to grow sweet corn, and although its footprint is large, the reward is worth it. Wish ripped off an ear of his super sweet bi-color corn and let me sample the season's bounty, raw and full of flavor.

You can find Wishwell Farms handpicked sweet corn at most farmers markets in Central Ohio. In fact, they participate in more than 12 markets stretching five counties and accounting for three-fourths of their business. In addition to markets, you can also find their produce at the Wishwell Home Farm stand open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and located just a few miles north of Bellefontaine. Besides sweet corn, they offer green beans, tomatoes, seedless watermelons, cantaloupe, peppers, eggplant, and in the fall, pumpkins, gourdes and squash varieties. In order to be streamlined and more efficient Wish says he hasn't added to the lineup of crops he grows to include any root vegetables, but mentioned as his 12-year-old son becomes more curious about the family's business to keep your eyes peeled for future offerings from the next generation of Wish farmers.

Nicole Pallante is a Columbus blogger who writes about local food and farmers at Once a month, she shares the story of an area farmer and an in-season ingredient with Crave. She shares her recipe for sweet corn doughnuts with salted butter frosting on her blog.