The sweet corn harvest may have begun a few days later than expected, but the end result is sweet indeed.
John Harold’s harvesters last week made the first sweep of his fields, picking his patented “Olathe Sweet” variety. In the end, Harold said, 156 people working 1,700 acres will have picked, prepped and packaged 750,000 cases of the corn, 85% of which is sold to Kroger (parent company of City Market/King Soopers).
“Things are going well. We were later than we projected (by about 12 days), because of the spring, which is causing some problems,” Harold said.
“I think it will straighten itself out and we will be going full bore. The crop is good.”
The cooler spring slowed crops down a little, but only put operations a few days behind, sweet corn grower John Brew said.
Brew and his brother Scott are from a long line of farmers in the valley. They grow corn on about 218 acres straddling the Montrose-Delta county line, contracting with the Fishering family’s Mountain Quality Farms.
“Things are looking pretty good,” Brew said. “We thought we were going to be short on water, but we’re probably going to be OK.”
Last year brought trouble with worms in the corn and this year carried fears about wildfire smoke and excessive heat, Harold said. But right now, there haven’t been worm problems and the corn is thriving. “The quality is good. The market isn’t where we’d like it to be; that’s one of the things that comes with the territory,” Harold said.
The corn crops of Florida and Georgia were planted later because of unfavorable weather. That means their corn, ordinarily already out of the market by this time, is still around to compete with Colorado’s, Harold said.
That, he added, should straighten itself out, and because drought is affecting California’s corn crops, he is comfortable the market will pick itself up.
For Brew, the market is good, as it tends to be early on, he said, and he believes prices will be good all the way around.
“The margins are pretty small, so you have to do more than you want to,” Brew said, of farming operations. But he is optimistic about the corn. “I think the crop is probably going to be better than what we thought it would be when we started,” he said.
One person especially eager for the sweet corn is Colleen Zweigle — she and a core group are putting on the signature summer event, the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, which makes a comeback after the pandemic canceled it last year. Plus, it’s back in Olathe, following a 2019 move to Montrose. Oh — and entry this year is free.
“I think that the response has been so positive to having it back in Olathe. I am very excited to have it back. People are overwhelming in their support in having it back there. I just feel like that is where it belongs,” Zweigle said.
“I think it is going to make it extra special, having it after it was absent last year. Everyone is just excited to get out.”
Zweigle sees the corn festival as a welcome boost to the entire area and said it sends the right message to keep it going.
“This year, they were just going to let it go and I was, oh no. No you’re not,” she said. Zweigle was worried that if the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival was again dropped, it would never resume. Motivated by Olathe pride, Zweigle, who was a festival board member, resigned and took on the event planning, along with Jan Worley, Janelle Miller, Melanie Caton and Mary Ann Harris.
“We’re all very passionate about this,” Zweigle said. “Come out, have some good family fun. Spend the day, relax — eat corn.”
The big day is Aug. 7, which kicks off with a parade at 9 a.m. on Main Street. That is where festival activities will stay, too. The street will be blocked off to traffic.
The main stage hosts the traditional corn eating contest, as well as entertainment, a kids pageant and other events.
Throughout the day, check out the car show (whose entrants are also welcome at the parade), vendor booths, and enter bids on silent auction items.
Kids can burn off some energy in the Kids Zone, where activities include bounce houses and carnival games.
Event emcee DJ Antman will be playing tunes from 10 a.m. — 1 p.m. Vanishing Breed, a Cortez-based band, plays from 3 — 6 p.m., and local favorite Neon Sky closes out the night from 7 — 10 p.m., playing for the street dance.
Having the festival on Main Street keeps it sweet and simple, Zweigle said, and it cuts down on expenses in a year when donations and funding are down.
She said bringing back the festival sends an important signal to the community and also offers a reminder of the critical role agriculture plays in life.
“I just feel like it’s something that we’ve always been proud of having,” Zweigle said.
To make donations, call 970-901-4234. For festival information, visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/olathesweetcornfest/ — not the usual website, which is experiencing technical issues and does not have updated information.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.