Monday, August 13, 2001

Homegrown corn revives the soul

        As summers go, Cincinnati has seen better. The Reds stink at home. It's been too hot. And too many harsh words still resound from April's riots. At least, we have sweet corn. And, it is spectacular.

        By all accounts, this is a vintage year for locally grown sweet, white corn. Rainfall, heat waves and cool spells have come at the right time and in the right amounts.

        The ears on the stalks are plump. The shiny kernels give off a pearly white glow. Tender and juicy, they line up in orderly rows, waiting to be slathered with butter and dashed with salt. Then savored with each nibble.

Sweet corn is Tim Aichholz's specialty crop.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Tim Aichholz and four generations of his family have grown, picked and sold some of the area's sweetest corn on their Anderson Township farm.

        Come summer, up goes the white Aichholz Farm Market tent. In its shade just off Round Bottom Road, a few crops — cherries, berries, etc. — are available from other farms.

        But the bulk of the produce and all of the corn — including two varieties named for Tim's children, Casey and Megan — comes from the 27 acres his family has tended since the 1920s.

        The farm grows more than 130 varieties of fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. But sweet corn is king. Tall green stalks stand on 20 of the 27 acres.

        I hauled my taste buds to Tim's farm last week to thank him and every other local sweet corn farmer for raising this summer delicacy. It ranks with locally grown watermelons and vine-ripened tomatoes as the season's taste sensations.

        But, Tim is a tough man to thank. He's rarely still.

        He hits the fields at daybreak.

  •   The Aichholz Farm Market, 3920 Round Bottom Road, Anderson Township, is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday. For recorded updates on produce availability, call: (513) 233-FARM (3276).
        “If I get here at 6 a.m., I'm late,” he told me.

        “And I'm here,” he added, gazing at a blazing afternoon sun, “until dark.”

        Sixteen-hour days. Seven days a week. From April to October.

        No time for a summer vacation. Or even a long break.

        Tim and his wife, Sally, once took a morning off to take their daughter, Megan, to college. They came home to find birds devouring a field of corn.

        “Blackbirds and crows will wipe out 12,000 ears of corn while you sit and eat lunch,” Tim said. “That's why you have to scare them away.”

        He uses a propane-powered air cannon to keep the birds airborne.

        Between chores, Tim inspected a row of tomato plants sagging from the weight of their red, ripe fruit. Behind us, the pungent scents of oregano and basil in the farm's herb garden mingled with the zestiness of ripe tomatoes. The air became a pasta sauce for the olfactory senses.

        Tim told me he doesn't “have to farm.” He's sold off enough land to live comfortably.

        “But I'm not the kind of guy to stay at home and run a sweeper,” he said.

        He has to be doing something. Preferably outdoors. He tried office work. Too much stress. “If a job's got a desk tied to it, I don't want anything to do with it.”

        Farming is stressful, too. But its rewards are bountiful.

        “When I drive my tractor to a corn field early in the morning, you can smell the pollen. It's sweet. And it says corn.

        Tim is 52. He's at an age when you start questioning why you do things you have always done. Some days, he feels he farms out of a sense of family pride.

        He remembers picking corn with his dad, Calvin Aichholz. Their horse, Jim, pulled a sled that father and son would fill with ears of corn. Jim always kept pace. Still, Tim's dad would always want him to hurry up.

        Tim smiled at that memory. He adjusted a ball cap bearing his farm's insignia, a happy ear of corn.

        Jim and Calvin are gone. But Tim keeps farming. Growing sweet corn. Selling fresh-picked ears to city folks. Giving them a chance to sample summer's bounty.

        “I also do this for the satisfaction,” Tim said.

        “It feels good knowing other people like to eat what you grow.”

        Sweet corn creates even sweeter memories. At my house, my wife places steaming ears onto white corn-shaped dishes. Maple and steel holders made by my dad secure each end of the ear of corn.

        Everyone digs in. Laughter flows as rows of sweet juicy kernels are buttered, salted and mowed down in seconds.

        Nobody complains about the heat or the Reds. Harsh words have no place at this table. This is a feast of a labor of love. Such is the glory of sweet corn.

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