Sun, Nov. 17

Verde sweet corn
A symbiotic relationship with deep roots

Corn is not natural. According to Mexican anthropologist and historian Arturo Warman, corn, or maize as it is known to most of the world, is a totally human invention that can not, and does not, exist in the wild.

In order to propagate, man must plant its seeds. It is totally dependent on human protection for its survival.

However, the same could be said for many early cultures in the western hemisphere.

It is a relationship known in scientific terms as symbiosis.

The word refers to an association in which two different organisms exist to the mutual advantage of each other.

By definition corn is a grass. It is a domesticated form of teosinte, a wild grass that still grows in the foothills of the Sierra Madres.

Scientists believe corn was first domesticated in the Balsas River drainage of western Mexico sometime around 3,000 to 4,000 B.C.

Whether its cultivation was, as one scientist stated, "a process or and event," has yet to be determined.

One thing is for sure though, the corn plant's domestication and the growth of the great civilizations of the Americas­­north, south and central­­are inseparably tied. One would likely not have survived without the other.

Today, five to six thousand years after its domestication, that symbiotic relationship is still thriving.

Corn is now the second most planted field crop in the world ­­ rice being first.

It is used in everything from food, to fuel to fabrics.

Environmentally friendly products like ethanol fuel and biodegradable plastics, along with low fat foods, pharmaceuticals, dry cell batteries and non-toxic adhesives, made all or in part with corn., demonstrate the strength of the symbiotic relationship.

But for all the benefits it provides our modern world there is one aspect of the plant it is truly appreciated for ­­ its sweetness.

We are talking sweet corn.

If corn is a man made plant, then sweet corn is among mankind's newest creations.

As the story goes, sweet corn was first "discovered" growing in an Iroquois village on the Susquehanna River in upstate New York in 1779. Being a manmade invention, men soon went to work improving this delightful variant.

That effort began to bear fruit soon after the Civil War, and sweet corn, on the cob and off, soon became a popular addition to the American pallet.

In the 1970s, agronomists began developing what are known now as the "supersweet" varieties. They are not only sweeter, they are also able to retain their sweetness long enough to make it from the field, to the supermarket, and to the home.

It's nice to know we have that kind of corn as an option.

But we live in the Verde Valley where sweet corn has reached superstar status. We are not accustomed to going to the supermarket for our corn. We have a better source.

And although many residents set aside a few rows of their backyard garden for our favorite sweet grass, most of us look to one family for our annual fix.

From early July through the first of September, Hauser and Hauser Farms' corn stand on Montezuma Castle Highway in Camp Verde becomes the Mecca for all sweet corn aficionados.

Literally hundreds if not thousands of locals and out-of-towners show up every day the stand is open to cart away sacks of the Hauser's special strain of white and yellow sweet corn

Started in the early '70s by Dick and Brenda Hauser, the crop was expanded when their son Kevin and his wife Claudia decided to go into full production in the '80s.

Brenda says it started when she asked Dick if he would plant her a little crop of sweet corn on a few acres adjacent t to the Verde River. She was just trying to satisfy her own sweet tooth.

Today Hauser and Hauser Farms manages to supply the entire Verde Valley and all who pass through. They also fill a few wagons every year for the folks who shop at Young's Farm in Dewey. And they do it on 65 acres of rich alluvial soil adjacent to the Verde River.

According to Kevin, his relationship with sweet corn has been both symbiotic and a learning experience. Not only has it allowed him and Claudia to make a living doing what they like, it has taught him to be a better farmer.

"Sweet corn requires a much bigger investment than field corn," Kevin said. "Not just in money but in time and effort. I kept accurate records for five straight years before I felt comfortable growing it."

According to Kevin, the secret to raising corn is similar to raising children, lots of attention and a good measure of consistency. What else would you expect from such a relationship?

"Seed variety is secret No. 1. A sound watering program is a close second. They like a nice quick drink and they like it on schedule. You can't be late on anything, whether it be water or the date you plant it. Timeliness is a big deal," Kevin said.

Luck also plays a role as it does for any crop. Kevin says he has lost crops due to late frosts, dry irrigation ditches, hail and even elk. This year it was worms.

But in spite of the risks, the Hausers press on every year, catering to a relationship that has some very deep roots.

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