Sun, Dec. 08

Camp Verde's Cornfest: Family fun at its best
How a simple request became a Verde Valley tradition

CAMP VERDE - It has been nearly 40 years since Brenda Hauser, a farmer's wife, asked her husband, Dick Hauser, to plant some sweet corn on 5 acres next to the Verde River.

As Brenda explains it, "We already had a small garden of veggies with a little sweet corn. I thought, wouldn't it be nice to have some more?"

For the first few years, Brenda sold "you pick it" corn for 50 cents a dozen -- weekends only. Pickers often negotiated a sea of mud or a cloud of dust to get to the field.

Few, however, were deterred, and those that were could always expect a farm vehicle of some sort to shuttle them back and forth from the pavement.

The corn patch proved such a success that farmer Hauser was forced to expand his acreage. The family also began harvesting the corn themselves, employing half of Camp Verde High School in the process.

But in the early 1980's, the labor-intensive process (hand-watering, hand-hoeing, hand-picking) became too much. For about five years the valley was devoid of its favorite crop.

But in 1987, with the help of Dick and Brenda's son, Kevin, and his wife Claudia, the business was resurrected. A stand was built, machines replaced much of the manual labor and very soon, a tradition was born.

The growing crowds at the corn stand all summer did not go unnoticed by local boosters. Chamber of Commerce member Dee Witt suggested that Camp Verde residents organize a celebration of their beloved sweet corn, sometime during the height of the season.

In 1992, the Cornfest was born.

Over the last 20 years the games, the silliness, the ambiance, the hosts and sponsors have constantly changed.

But two things have stayed the same -- the corn still comes from Hauser Farms. And event remains, quintessentially, a family affair.

This Friday, July 15, from 3-10 p.m. and Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Verde Valley will celebrate its favorite crop for the 20th year in a row on Camp Verde's Main Street.

There will be plenty of carnival-style booths, fair-style food vendors and roasted sweet corn.

Saturday will be packed with kids events, including a hog calling contest, corniest joke contest, a kiddy tractor pull, a Corn Prince and Princess pageant (open for ages 3 to 5), sack races, water balloon toss, shoe race, bubblegum blowing contest and a corn eating contest.

This year, thanks to the sponsorships of Cliff Castle Casino and Budweiser, a couple of very popular items that have gone missing the last few years, will return.

The first is live bluegrass music. On Friday evening, the Phoenix band The Hardways will perform. On Saturday, the nationally renowned Burnett Family will be on stage starting at 7 p.m.

If food is your thing, consider coming early to the Verde Valley Framers market. The Saturday morning vendors will be selling fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs from area farms.

The Camp Verde Historical society will also open the newly renovated Camp Verde jail for tours both Saturday and Sunday.

Oh ... one more thing ... admission to the Camp Verde Cornfest is free.

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