Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Farmer grins from ear to ear
Perspiring customers ask Sally Aichholz how her husband and 20 acres of sweet corn are holding up in the heat. She gives them the reply of a farmer's wife:
Corn's holding up real well. But I don't know about Tim.
Neither does he.
Sixteen-hour days and 90-plus temperatures have made him unsure about a lot of things. His tolerance for hot weather. His reasons for farming at age 53. His sanity while sitting on a tractor and baking in 97-degree heat.
Tim is sure about one thing, though. This year's sweet corn beats last year's spectacular crop.
It's sweeter. Juicier. And it's running about 10 days ahead of schedule because of the heat, Tim told me.
He spoke as he drove, bouncing us along grooved paths between fields of corn. Stalks of varieties bearing such names as Buckeye and Silver King stood in close formation. No mysterious gaps appeared as in Mel Gibson's hit movie Signs.
Tim manned the wheel of a John Deere Gator, a hybrid contraption that's a combination mini-tank, Humvee, buckboard and dune buggy.
To satisfy my corn cravings, I caught up with him at 10 a.m. Monday. He had just pulled under the tent of the Aichholz Farm Market. The white tent sits amid the Anderson Township acreage his family has tilled for four generations.
This time last year, Tim gave me his evaluation of the sweet corn crop. So, I figured it was time for his annual report on this Midwestern delicacy.
With the temperature already at 92, Tim was well into the sixth hour of his 16-hour day.
He would not leave the fields along Round Bottom Road until dark. That's how he spends what he calls his day off.
The tent is closed on Mondays. So, he tends his fields, checks on critter damage and irrigates a 27-acre medley of flowers, fruits and vegetables.
On Mondays, he doesn't have to make endless tractor trips from the cornfields to the market. He doesn't need to keep filling a box that holds close to 80 dozen ears of hand-picked corn, a box customers can empty in 10 minutes.
Free from harvesting, he can test the corn for ripeness.
Too much cob. Kernels too small. Not ready yet, he said Monday after pulling an ear from a stalk, shucking it and taking a bite all in one motion.
See the empty spots? he asked. He pointed to an occasional blank space in an otherwise unbroken row of pearly kernels. That's from the heat.
The heat's driving wildlife from the surrounding hillsides into the Aichholz oasis. Craving moisture, raccoons, possums, groundhogs, crows and blackbirds feast on the sweet corn.
The animals are the worst I've ever seen, Tim said.
The weather and wildlife are wearing him out. He drags himself home after 9 p.m. and takes a cold shower.
But my body can't cool down.
He eats a light dinner. Sunday night it was chicken and two ears of corn, plain, no salt, no butter.
He's in bed by 10 p.m. so he can make it through another day.
Alone in the fields, he wonders how long he's going to keep farming. He has no answer yet.
So, he keeps raising sweet corn out of a sense of family pride, a love of the land and a feeling of satisfaction.
Tim knows he grows food that makes people happy.
Put an ear of corn to your lips. The rows of kernels are obediently lined up, patiently awaiting salt and butter or nothing at all.
The thought of biting into them creates smiles of anticipation. And a nod to the farmer.
Now, let's eat.
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 768-8379; fax 768-8340. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/radel
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