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  • Robert Bruce Adams

Corn Is King

ONE OF MY PASSIONS IS PLANTING MY ANNUAL GARDEN. Their contents have certainly changed over the years based primarily on where I lived and how much space I had to work with. Today, I primarily watch over a couple tomato plants and pots teeming with herbs and flowers on my patio. You might call it an urban-style garden.

When I lived in Illinois forty plus years ago I raised a few rows of a corn in my garden just off the back alley. The company I worked for, Northrup King, had developed a hybrid sweet corn, NK 199, that had become famous to those in the know. I had to give it a try. Curiosity was always in my genes.

This sweet corn first caught the fancy of the canning folks like Del Monte and Green Giant. They praised it primarily for its deep golden color and big barrel shaped ear. It had a high yield that was unmatched by competitors. Farmers usually like yield over flavor but this corn had both. The roadside stands began growing it too, and it became the favorite of thousands of the farm markets throughout the U.S. in the 1970s.

During my travel to Michigan to visit one of my turfgrass accounts my knowledge of this corn variety gleaned from my few rows of corn saved my bacon for what would have been a hefty speeding ticket on I-94 outside of Battle Creek. I had a company car that was a Ford Torino. It was dark blue with black wall tires and small chrome wheel covers and no radio. It often was mistaken for an undercover police car. It was ugly and drew the attention of many, mostly in disbelief that a car could be so basic. I was still in my late twenties and was always speeding from one account to the next and this behavior apparently caught the attention of a state trooper that turned his vehicle around on I-94, no small feat, and pulled me over. I didn’t know that radar had been updated to nab violators in the opposite direction. What would they think of next?

He stated that he, “clocked me at over 90.” I admitted to 75, but that was as far as I would go. I resigned to the violation remembering one of the NK territory managers telling me he expensed his speeding tickets which all of a sudden seemed like a brilliant idea. As the trooper and I chatted from my open window I let him know I used to live near by and had attended Albion College. That didn’t get much of a response from the officer. He then asked where I got the car?

“Oh, I work for Northrup King, company cars are supplied to us.” I ended by chirping, “Isn’t it ugly?” He responded, “Yea, it’s a real beauty.” I was going for the struggling family-man image. He then asked, “Isn’t that a seed company?” I was delighted that he knew of the company. Everyone else thought I worked for a defense contractor.

“Yes, how are you familiar with them?” I asked. He then went into his story of how he and his wife had sold a Northrup King hybrid sweet corn last year at their farm stand that was fabulous. People were returning daily to get more of it. In their fifteen years never had they experienced such demand. But they could not remember the name and their seed supplier had quit the business. They were stumped.

I asked if it was a short stubby ear, golden in color, with a dark brown silk?

“Yes.” He said enthusiastically. He quickly stopped writing the ticket.

“That’s our NK 199.” I was proud that I knew enough from listening to others at work and growing my own. I told him I’d be happy to take his name and number and have somebody from our vegetable seed division contact him. He turned over the ticket and jotted his name and number and handed it to me. He then crumpled up his ticket copy and said, “That’ll be a warning today.” We both smiled. Those were the good old days before dash cams.

You can’t make this stuff up!


Incidentally, the early browning of silk eventually was the death of the variety. The canning industry could never quite get rid of the dark brown silk in their processing which showed up in the cans as small dark specs of questionable origin and brought too many customer complaints.

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