ROCHELLE — Rainwater Farms’ sweet corn began as Jeff Rainwater’s Future Farmers of America project in 1989.
Rainwater wanted to see if he could grow a sweet corn that people would buy. Back then, sweet corn and vegetable stands in town weren’t common.
“It was one of those things, can you take a product and grow it on your farm and make money?” Rainwater said. “The answer was yes. And that's how it started.”
Now, Rainwater Farms has about 50 acres of sweet corn. Along with its stands, the farm deals to grocers like Woodman’s and Schnucks and restaurants.
Sunday will be Rainwater Farms’ first day of sweet corn sales of the season. The farm’s home stand can be found at 17557 E. Twombly Road seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The stand in Kings will also be open Thursday through Sunday. MightyVine tomatoes, grown in Rochelle, will also be available with the sweet corn.
Rainwater said over the past couple weeks, he’s been asked everywhere he’s gone in town when sweet corn is going to start.
“I share in that excitement,” Rainwater said. “I want to eat it too. I love it. I love being a part of that. There's a lot of pride that goes into a product that your public eats and loves. There's a lot of excitement.”
The demand for sweet corn is at its highest in the first 10-14 days of sales. More corn will be sold during that time than the last 3-4 weeks of the season, Rainwater said.
The sweet corn production process is as follows: the ground is prepared, nitrogen is put down, planting is done every 3-5 days depending on weather and spraying is done for weeds and bugs until a week before picking. It’s harvested and comes in on wagons for sorting. Only the best ears make it.
Rainwater called this year “pretty good” for weather and optimal growth. It got warm and stayed warm and dry. Then came good moisture and more heat, but not too much of each.
“So far it's been great,” Rainwater said. “The only thing that hurts us is the current heat that shortens when we have to pick. But that's mother nature. We'd rather have heat than no heat.”
Sweet corn is the most labor-intensive thing Rainwater Farms does. There’s a lot of hands-on work that doesn’t come into play when the operation does its normal corn and soybeans. That hands-on work will be done every day for the next 5-6 weeks until the season ends.
Rainwater estimates sweet corn is about 15-20 percent of Rainwater Farms’ operation. That changes from year to year. Each year he takes on more acreage and responsibility. He called the sweet corn operation “fairly extensive.”
Some customers don’t know that Rainwater Farms does anything outside of sweet corn.
“I would say this is what we're known for,” Rainwater said. “Unless people know the family, they don't know we do other kinds of farming. If you drive in here, you get an idea it's not all for sweet corn. This is what we advertise. I don't advertise that I'm a corn and soybean farmer like I do for sweet corn.”
Rainwater doesn’t mind the hands-on work that comes with sweet corn production.
“It's a big part of our livelihood,” Rainwater said. “I get up every day and have a set amount of things to do to continue this livelihood. It doesn't matter if it's day one or day 365. Every day I'm getting up to do something to continue my livelihood.”