Archive for October, 2010

Corn “R” Us

Miss the goal, and the soccer ball ends up in the corn.

I was following a truck the other day.  It had an advertisement on the back touting “Real Wisconsin Cheese.”  And I started thinking:   Though Wisconsin is known for cheese, it’s not like you can look out a window there and see it everywhere.  Sure, you can see the cows that contribute the milk, and there are signs that promote cheese and stores and little stands that sell it.  There are a few hundred factories scatted across the state that make it.  And of course you see people wearing cheese hats at football games.

But still, you don’t drive down the highway and look out at the beautiful cheese.

It’s like that in a lot of places – the thing an area is known for isn’t constantly visible, nor easily assessable, nor in proximity to everyone and everything.

West Virginia and Kentucky are known for coal.   But the coal is underground.  You might see miners and mining operations and coal on conveyors and rail cars and trucks.  But to be sure, coal isn’t constantly everywhere you look.

Kids play sports surrounded by corn

Texas is an oil state.  I was driving through there last week and saw the wells.  But I didn’t actually see any oil itself.

Maine is famous for lobsters, but I bet I could visit there and not see one.

You get the point.

But those who live where the corn grows really do live in the corn.  Every direction you look, there it is. Everyone who drives through or visits — they see it too.  Go atop the tallest building in the middle of any city in Iowa, look out, and on the horizon you will see corn.  Attend a baseball or a football or a soccer game in nearly any small town, and the playing fields likely abut the corn.  Pick up a newspaper on any day, and there is probably and article about corn.  Go from one town to the next, and you drive through corn.

It is so familiar, in fact, that most people don’t notice it, much less really think about its significance.  I suppose that happens when something is so common.  Do people who live in the mountains really notice the views each day?  Do those who live on the beach become sensitized to the constant sound of the waves?

Though we may not always think about it, however, corn is THE big deal here.  And what makes the relationship so special is its proximity to everything we do.  We grow up playing near it; thousands of people earn their living from it; much of what we eat is derived from it; many people are buried next to it.

Nighttime sports can seem almost eerie in the corn

They say that sailors can learn to read the ocean; they know its moods and temperament, they can sense things by the way the wind blows and the waves break and the air smells.  It’s like that with cornfields, too.  Live here long enough, and the corn becomes ingrained in your being, your soul, and your spirit.  It becomes, in fact, a part of who you are.


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Corn Art

A good friend is in the process of converting an old grain elevator near downtown Omaha into a rock climbing and outdoor adventure facility.  It’s called Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures, and is slated to open sometime next year.

In the meantime, the elevators are covered with huge murals that depict artwork about agriculture, land use and food.  This project is called Stored Potential: Repurposing the Mid-Century Grain Elevator, and is instigated by Emerging Terrain, an educational non-profit research and design collaborative based in Omaha.  Click here for more info.

It’s totally cool to drive past this on Interstate 80, and even more meaningful (to me) that a couple of the murals depict the beauty and significance of corn.

The barcode mural  (above left) is called Corn as a Commodity by artist Jeremy Reding.  Emerging Terrain explains that his submission “not only expresses the importance of the plant to the state of Nebraska but also its role in the transformation of our farms, livestock, grocery stores and beyond.   By conveying the corncob as a scannable barcode, the simple image attempts to connect viewers to corn as a commodity.”

At left is an image called Corn Cob by artist Mary Day.

It’s a very unique, thought provoking project.  It’s also fun to watch as the climbing endeavor comes to fruition.

When it opens, Silo Extreme Outdoor Adventures will be one of the tallest man-made climbing venues in the U.S.

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Oklahoma Politics

I saw this sign in Anadarko, Oklahoma yesterday.

Can you name the second man on the moon?  What’s the second highest mountain the world?  Which horse came in second in the last Kentucky Derby?  It’s usually not very noteworthy to be #2, but there’s a guy named Kenneth Corn who apparently aspires to be second in command in Oklahoma.  I don’t know a thing about him but enjoyed seeing his signs.

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This is the time of year grocery stores and garden centers sell corn stalks for decorations.  And at these prices, I’m surprised more farmers don’t focus on this market — think what a whole field would be worth if 5 stalks sell for $8.99!

Was $8.99. Now, $8.99. What a deal!


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The first picture (top) was taken in 2009.  The second one (bottom) was taken in the exact same spot today.  All around here, the most fertile farmland in the world is being taken out of production, paved over, and filled with houses, strip malls, parking lots, schools.  What was once a beautiful cornfield will soon be cul de sac streets with beige homes, streetlights, tidy weed-free (but chemically treated) lawns mowed in straight lines, swing sets in backyards, SUVs parked in driveways, little trees, and maybe…maybe once in a while… in the fall there will be a few decorative dried cornstalks tied to a mailboxs to create a festive, country atmosphere.  I wonder what they’ll name this new street — perhaps Country Lane, or Prairie Drive, or maybe Green Field Road.

And still, some people call this Progress.

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Most of the corn grown around here is called “dent” corn.  That’s because when a kernel dries, the starchy stuff on the inside shrinks but the outside shell doesn’t — and thus it develops a dent in the surface.   The dent is a hybrid, meaning it didn’t evolve this way naturally; it was originally created by cross-breeding other types of corn.

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