Students plant, harvest sweet corn for Indiana food banks

Volunteers and students from Ivy Tech Community College Wabash Valley grabs ears of corn that have just been harvested from a field along Davis Avenue in order to bag them on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 in Terre Haute, Ind. The students helped harvest and bag corn for distribution to Catholic Charities Foodbank as well as several church food banks in Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley. (Joseph C. Garza/The Tribune-Star via AP)

TERRE HAUTE — With the bed of a pickup truck lined in sweet corn, Sydni Britton began filling a plastic bag.

“How many ears in a bag?” she said.

The answer was 12.

Britton was among Ivy Tech agriculture and precision agriculture students who recently helped harvest and bag corn for distribution to Catholic Charities Foodbank as well as several church food banks in Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley.

It’s the fourth year Ivy Tech has conducted a community sweet corn harvest on 6 acres owned by Westminster Village next to First Southern Baptist Church along Davis Drive.

This year marks a new planting strategy, as corn was planted to produce multiple harvests, said John Rosene, Ivy Tech agriculture program chairman.

“Always before, it has been really condensed at the harvest, so we tried to spread it out at planting, but the harvests just come boom, boom, boom, so we really spread it apart this year,” Rosene said.

Each planting is about 1 1/2 acres on the 6 acres, Rosene said.

The harvest was the best yield, Rosene said, as it missed hot and dry weather in July.

Ivy Tech planted 26,000 sweet corn seeds per acre in 24 rows that are 1,100 feet long in 1.5 acre patches. That equates to more than 39,300 ears of corn for distribution.

“Unfortunately, with sweet corn, most sweet corn plants produce two ears, but our mechanical picker can only pick one ear. We end up sacrificing that second ear, but it is the only way for us to do this efficiently, otherwise we would have to hand pick every ear — another 39,000 of them,” Rosene said.

Large cardboard containers were filled for distribution by Catholic Charities and loaded onto trucks for distribution.

“We want to distribute this corn as fast as we can, as the sugar content goes way down as soon as you pick it,” said Homer Beach, a driver for Catholic Charities. “What we don’t distribute, we will put in a cooler to keep a couple of days.”

Beach said corn would go to Terre Haute, but also to Jasonville in Clay County and to Bicknell in Knox County. Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank serves Clay, Greene, Knox, Parke, Sullivan, Vermillion, and Vigo counties through a network of emergency food distribution member agencies.

Members of Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Association distribute corn. Larry Agee planned to deliver sweet corn to food kitchens at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, St. Ben’s Catholic Church, St. Joseph University Parish and the Lighthouse Mission.

Master Gardeners will deliver three loads,” Agee said.

For Britton, being outdoors is part of the learning experience at Ivy Tech Community College Terre Haute.

“This is like real world experiences, so instead of just listening to someone lecture in a class, we get hands-on experience,” Britton said.

Ivy Tech student Zebb Butts said he sought to pursue agriculture “as when I was growing up we always had a little bit of livestock, I was in 4-H and FAA and kind of grew up around it all my life.”

“Giving back to the community is a really important aspect when it comes to my life,” Britton said. “We are helping people in need.”


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