Summer 2008, the local juice grape market slumped and forced us to remove our 50 year old Concord and Niagara grape vines. Over 8 weeks we hewed vines, pulled posts, wound wire and excavated roots, grafting two of our three now vacant vineyard plots into our conventional farming operation. Demanding physically, it was also an emotional time -- the end of an era. But there were still 2.5 acres in the corner of the farm, the third vineyard plot, that waited on us for a new purpose.
We’d been frequenting local farm markets to introduce our new sweet and salty Maple Kettle Corn and, oh boy! It was stirring a fan base. People kept asking, “Where is the popcorn from?” and to our chagrin we had to reply, “Not from around here,” with the USA being the only place we could purchase large enough quantities for our demand. The more this question got asked, the more we started to think -- “Why not grow our own?” After all, we did have 2.5 vacant acres looking for a new purpose.
We jumped into the research … and we probably should have stopped there. Popcorn is far from similar to any crop we’d grown, and needed a much longer growing season than traditional corn. If we planted just a fraction too late, the popcorn would fail to mature before autumn’s first frost and the entire crop would be destroyed. Not to mention, we needed to find seed suitable for our end product -- the Maple Kettle Corn.
Spring 2009, the seed we’d found was delivered and our very first field of popping corn was planted, on time. But timing it seemed wasn’t everything. Corn loves the heat of summer and that summer was anything but hot. Day after day of wet, cool weather slowed the growth of our little experiment and as August closed, our popcorn was far from ready.
September rolled in with a belated heatwave and our 9 foot corn plants raced to maturity.
October 19, 2009 we harvested our very first crop of popping corn, but the real work had only begun. Thanks to the wet summer, mould festered on many of the cobs and every cob had to be hand-inspected before entering the grain bin to dry. Ever wonder how many cobs can grow on 2.5 acres? Approximately 140,000! A third of the crop failed our scrutiny.
After 2 weeks in the bin, our cobs were ready to shell. We grabbed our shovels and moved those cobs from the bin to the shelling machine -- all 5 tonnes! Once shelled, all kernels were shipped off to be cleaned over the Christmas holidays.
February 7, 2010 - a year and a half after our idea to grow our own popcorn went into motion, our very first batch of Maple Kettle Corn, made with “locally-grown” popcorn was bagged. We haven’t looked back since.
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