Farm aid

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Like most of her classmates, Ohio State sophomore Stephanie Neal spent her summer outside in the sun, plugged into her iPod. But she wasn't just lying by the pool -- she was out in a cornfield for six hours a day. "We'd get up at 7 a.m. to pick corn every day," the Jackson native said. "Working in the morning, when it's 95 degrees by noon, wasn't always the best."

Neal and her family had planted that corn, and she sold the harvested produce from a roadside stand. The money Neal earned through her summer project helped pay for her tuition at Ohio State.

In three weeks, she sold about 20,000 ears of corn for a $6,000 profit -- enough to fund about two and a half quarters of classes. Combined with scholarships, Neal was able to avoid taking out student loans for her second year.

"We never thought a produce stand could do that," she said. "My family will keep doing it to put me and my brother through school."

Neal's neighbors and friends, the Brauchers, let her family use about four acres of their land to grow and sell Montauk sweet corn. Although the Neals gave them 10 percent of the profit, Neal said the family would have given the land for free.

"The previous land renters had tried the same project we did, but after the corn was grown, they weren't able to find enough time and help to pick and sell it. So the crop grew and died right there in the field," she said. "The Brauchers were very excited to see their land put to good use that would benefit their close friends."

Most people who stopped by the stand bought several dozen ears at a time, and three local groceries placed large orders to sell the corn in their stores. But most people, Neal said, just wanted to help with her college finances.

"People gave extra money to support me," she said. "I think they liked the fact that it wasn't just to make money -- it was personal. They could relate. They had kids going to college."

Neal didn't grow up on a traditional farm, and she took on the corn project without any prior knowledge of grain agriculture. But she has been an active member of 4-H since grade school, when she told her parents she wanted a sheep. They gave her $100 for the animal, which she later sold to buy a cow.

Neal hopes to become a veterinarian for large animals, specifically dairy cattle, after she graduates from Ohio State.

"I wanted to be a vet since I was three," she said. "I turned our garage into an animal rescue center -- my parents weren't happy."