Corn Pros and Cons


This is my favorite time of the year, even with the horse and deer flies. I sit under the oak tree next to the garden and husk sweet corn. I love to husk sweet corn because I love roasted corn. There’s a way to pull down a sliver or two of husk from one side of the ear, and then grab the rest of the husk, silks and all, and strip it down clean off the cob. Well, clean enough for me. My wife fastidiously removes every last strand of silk from every ear.

An ear of corn, just past the pimply stage but not yet fully mature looks more beautiful to me than any of Victoria’s Secrets. I understand why native Americans celebrated their corn feasts with such joy and gusto. Nothing tastes as good as a roasted ear five minutes from the garden. The only fault of today’s super delicious sweet corn varieties is that the smell of the ears boiling in water is not as redolent with the ultimate soul of corn-ness as in the days of Yellow Bantam and Country Gentleman.

So why do I sometimes bad-mouth corn in print? Corn has become a sort of symbol of over-industrialized farming. I wish it were not so because corn is certainly a triumph of humans over nature, or rather humans in cooperation with nature. The ear of corn is one awesome seedhead and growing the stuff is fairly easy, all things considered. That’s the whole problem. Corn is sort of like sex. It is such a wonderful thing that it is easy to carry to excess.

Fascinatingly enough, this is not the first time in human history that corn has been overdone. From what archeology thinks now not only did excessive corn production bring down the downfall of the ancient Mayans but the Woodland Indians of the Mississippi Valley too. Not only is corn hard on the soil, but a diet heavy in corn is not necessarily healthy. Early mound-building Indians ate too much corn, say archeologists. Late skyscraper-building Americans eat too much corn too, in the form of meat fattened on corn.

But that is not the whole reason I criticize corn sometimes. I am heretical enough to think that it is not really great feed for livestock.  My chickens don’t think so. They eat it only grudgingly. They prefer wheat to supplement their bugs and worms in the woods.  When I eat corn, at least half of each kernel goes right through me. I have mixed hog manure with water and poured it through a screen and again, the yellow parts of the kernel were still there in the manure. It appears that almost half of the bulk of commercial corn fed to hogs goes right through them undigested. Squirrels regularly raid our corn crib. They eat only the germ out of each kernel and leave the rest. I think corn is like candy. It’s fun and fattening, and produces meat that is fun and fattening too.

Now I’ve found a farmer who agrees with me more or less. He was an Englishman writing in 1893. He might have been a bit prejudiced about anything from America but nevertheless his words are most interesting.  I found him quoted in Farm and Dairy magazine in a regular column, “Let’s Talk Rusty Iron” by Sam Moore. After stating that corn’s merits have been considerably exaggerated, the Englishman went on: “Maize, although useful, is not a perfect food for pigs and poultry, as, although it’s fattening, it certainly produces an inferior quality of meat, having a somewhat coarse and fishy flavor, particularly objectionable in poultry.”  He was even more scathing in his criticism of feeding corn to horses.

Wouldn’t it be something if someday scientific progress would decide that corn isn’t the best way to feed the world? I sure hope, if that happens, that roasting ears are considered an exception.


Earlier this year, I wondered out loud to my wife why we grow sweet corn in our garden… its takes up a lot of room, is nutrient hungry, and has lodged several times this year. It seems to be a very inefficient vegetable, from a biomass standpoint… all that stalk, cob, husk and most of the kernel are undigestible by humans. But all of that went out the window when we ate our first ears of Ambrosia last week, with plenty of butter and salt and pepper. Now we are wondering how we can plant more next year!

If I could grow corn here I would do so, but at 7300 ft I will have to stick with hay and maybe oats someday . I will need different equipment to do that. If I could grow corn it would change the dynamics of this whole place.

Man, some of these replys are sure getting corny.

Hi Gene,

I’ve just posted a remembrance re. corn from my childhood ( I call it “Corn Wars.” It relates to an inter-family argument circa 1955, about the merits of white corn (Stowell’s Evergreen) versus yellow corn (Golden Cross and Iowa Chief.)

Perhaps that argument is now settled by the bi-color ears that have captured the Chicagoland markets.

Ed Searl

If loving corn is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

Ate a ear of corn in the garden yesterday. It’s that sweet right now, doesn’t even need to be cooked. Here’s to the farmers that get to experience the joy of sweet corn straight out of the garden!

I miss having my fill of Country Gentleman…it’s been a long time. That and my grits and eggs for breakfast in the winter and corn read to break up the monotony of cardiologist’s requirement of steel cut oats every day would be the only things I’d really miss.
Sex can be carried to excess? At our age??

You may be the only person in the world to compare corn to sex!

“Corn is sort of like sex”? Now there’s a line I haven’t heard in awhile. No wait – that’s a line I’ve never heard before. It’s a good thing this post was about corn rather than sex or that line about preferring them past the pimply stage but not yet fully mature could have had you sleeping on the couch or in the barn for a long time. Victoria doesn’t have enough secrets to get you out of that mess.

Good information and insights served with a side of humor – a great menu that keeps me coming back.

Oh I forgot ‘Knee high by the 4th of July’…

As I remember the outer shell of corn is made from a substance that can not be digested. So as it passes through it fills up with the other stuff that is passing through. You are right on a lot of points, my mom and ex-wife are from NE so I know a bit about corn.

It’s not the fault of the corn that it’s easy to grow and so versatile; the problem is what happens when greedy people get involved in the process. I keep waiting for some pseudo-smart scientist to recognize that yes, it does tend to go right through people and animals –ta-dah, it’s the world’s greatest new laxative! Can’t you just imagine the marketing hype?


My son David and I just came back form northern Illinois with a couple of used gravity boxes, originally made in your neck of the woods, Delphos, OH. They are in good shape and were cheap, as gravity boxes are simply too small for the big boys now. As we crested a hill south of Freeport we came to an intersection and saw nothing but corn for miles in every direction. It was an amazing, yet troubling sight. What if some disease would suddenly appear and wipe out the corn crop? It isn’t good to rely so heavily on one thing in any situation, let alone food production. I’m afraid we’ll get bit just like our forebears on this continent.

Not to worry. The geniuses at Monsanto are working on a nitrogen-fixing, Roundup-ready, BT-producing, omega-3 enriched, terminator-seed corn that has teeth and preys on racoons and squirrels.

They’re working on the last few problems, like teaching interns not to reach into the test plots, and what to do with all the one-handed scientists they now have.

Well said Gene. May corn be celebrated for the glories it offers rather than the service it has been pressed to do. Lately I’ve been reading The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe. She too celebrates corn, well, certain heritage varieties, for glories long forgotten. Squash too. Worth a read.

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