Elk Lake seniors harvest field of dreams

Helping to harvest corn on the Place farm are from left, Mark Zayleskie, Brandon Roman, Alex Manzeck and Zach Moon. STAFF PHOTO/PAT FARNELLI

Helping to harvest corn on the Place farm are from left, Mark Zayleskie, Brandon Roman, Alex Manzeck and Zach Moon. STAFF PHOTO/PAT FARNELLI

BY PAT FARNELLI

About 30 Elk Lake seniors invaded an acre and a half of sweet corn Friday, stepping in and out of the tasseled rows while a thick fog slowly faded away. Some picked and trimmed corn on the spot, then handed it in ready for sale. Others shouldered down the rows, flattening the six foot plants to the ground and harvesting ears like a combine.

On a large orange tarp, seven or eight seniors checked the ears and tossed imperfect ones into a pile to feed to cows. They trimmed off the stems and any brown husks and piled a baker’s dozen ears into a paper sack.

School board member, bus driver and farmer Chuck Place demonstrated how to clean an ear so that it looks perfect.

“The way this started, 17 years ago, was that for two years before, the graduating class had no funds at all, and couldn’t do a senior trip,” Place said. “My daughter would be graduating the next year. So I asked some of the senior kids to get together to talk fundraisers, and I asked them, ‘How about sweet corn?’”

They gave it a try, and it was enough of a success to bring back senior trips and other activities.

At the time, Place thought the idea would lose momentum and fade away over the years. It did not. As a matter of fact, the sweet corn sale has been the most successful fundraiser ever used by the Elk Lake senior class.

“The other fundraisers usually involve chocolate or Christmas trinkets,” he said. “This way, you are selling something people are looking for, there’s no overhead.”

Starting at 9 a.m., the seniors picked, sorted and bagged two pickup trucks and several other vehicles full of ready to sell corn.

The students drive one pickup to the school to sell to teachers and staff. The other truckloads are taken to places like Flynn’s Stone Castle, and Fairway Pharmacy.

Place has an illustrated data sheet charting the planting dates, variety, and estimated yields.

Beginning May 25, he plants seven varieties of sweet corn, which ripen between Aug. 1 and the first week of September. He charts the number of rows planted for each variety, estimates the ears at 12 dozen per row. His best case scenario is 1056 dozen ears of corn, to be sold for $4 per dozen.
This allows the students to harvest four or five times and sell the corn for several weeks at the start of the school year.

A neighbor sprays the crop. Chuck’s father Al and brother Eric are the farm owners, while he and wife Mary own their house and about an acre around it. Mary has been battling multiple myeloma, or cancer of the bone marrow.

She recently had a stem cell procedure during which her blood was collected and centrifuged, then her own stem cells were reintroduced.

The procedure was very successful, Place said, and she is feeling much improved. She has a low level chemo treatment every Monday, and she is almost totally in remission.

Place has a deep and abiding love for Elk Lake School District, and is happy to find ways to remain engaged with the school and its students. He enjoys explaining the botany of corn, how the kernels are always in even numbered rows, how the tassel holds the pollen and must bend toward the silk in order for the ears to develop.

“The kids always have fun while they are here. It gives them one more day outdoors, and they connect with where their food comes from,” he said.