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Local sweet corn crop makes big comeback

Patrick Freke loads up on sweet corn at Wiltse's Farm Fresh Produce in Maple Park. Freke recently moved from Maple Park to Huntley. "We've got to come back for the sweet corn," he said.
Patrick Freke loads up on sweet corn at Wiltse's Farm Fresh Produce in Maple Park. Freke recently moved from Maple Park to Huntley. "We've got to come back for the sweet corn," he said.

Patty Marco won’t say this year’s crop of sweet corn will be the largest her family has ever pulled out of its soil on Kane County’s western line. 

Nor, she said, will it be the best tasting.

But after last year, this summer’s harvest certainly seems like it is.

“Last year was just such a struggle with everything,” said Marco, one of the family members who run Wiltse’s Farm Fresh Produce in Maple Park. “But this year is just so different, like night and day.

“The condition of the corn, the amount of the corn, the flavor of the corn, everything is just so much better.”

This summer, farmers running farm stands in the Tri-Cities area and elsewhere in Kane County and northern Illinois are almost all smiles as they move through the summer fruits and vegetables harvest season.

And a quick glance at the abundance and quality of the fruits and vegetables filling their bins offers an easy explanation for their good mood.

The bountiful haul has primarily stemmed from the weather this summer, local growers said.

Whereas last summer brought hot, dry weather in spades, this summer’s temperatures and rainfall have produced much more ideal growing conditions for virtually all locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Sweet corn, local growers said, is abundant again this year.

“It’s actually kind of a normal year,” Marco said. “And after last year, that’s a really good thing.”

But in addition to the quantity of the corn, the quality of the ears also is heads and shoulders better than last year’s, they said.

“The corn is extra sweet and tender, so much better than last year,” said Wayne Srail, co-owner of Windy Acres Farm on Fabyan Parkway in Geneva. “And the rain has come at the right times this year, and it’s keeping things a-growing.”

The condition of the local sweet corn crop mirrors the larger crop of corn, the bulk of which is grown for grain, rather than as a side dish at dinner.

According to the most recent crop progress report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 72 percent of Illinois’ corn crop was rated good to excellent, with just 6 percent rated poor or very poor.

A year ago, a severe drought left just 4 percent of the state’s corn rated good, and none of it was considered excellent by the USDA.

Almost three-fourths of Illinois’ corn was rated poor to very poor, according to the USDA’s Aug. 6, 2012, crop progress report.

That poor report set the stage for severely reduced corn production in 2012. Statewide, production was down 33 percent vs. 2011.

And in Kane County, corn production dropped by about 19 percent from a year earlier.

But this year, the story is much different, as farmers are looking forward to a much better harvest – even if they are hoping for a hot August to really boost growth among their rows of corn.

Local produce growers also said they wouldn’t mind a little more heat to help ripen some of the heat-loving fruit, like tomatoes. But generally, they said they are not complaining.

“We’ve got lots of everything,” Srail said. “Tomatoes, our peppers are jumbo-sized, cantaloupe, watermelon and we have a giant crop of onions this year.”

Marco said the crew at Wiltse’s has a similar bounty to share with its customers.

And she and Srail said customers are responding to the good news this year, streaming into their farm stands to harvest their own locally grown goodies.

“I think people around here came to believe that it would always be readily available,” Marco said. “But last year caught some of them off guard, and this year they realized a little more what they have right around where they live.”

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