Valley Bounty: Corn

The United States produces more corn than any other nation on the planet, growing well over 300 million tons of corn annually (close to a third of global production) on more than 90 million acres of farmland. Only about 1% of that total production is the sweet corn we see at local farm stands and at backyard barbecues; the rest is used in ethanol production, exported, fed to livestock, or used to make other corn-based products. That imbalance is present in our national diet as well: according to the USDA, we ate about 8.6lbs of fresh sweet corn per capita in 2015, compared with 34lbs of dry corn products like corn meal and corn starch and a whopping 57.7lbs of corn-derived sweeteners in that same year.

There are a number of interrelated reasons for this gap, including the prevalence of processed foods in our national diet, the direct income subsidies farmers can receive for growing commodity corn varieties that are not available for sweet corn, and the relatively low cost to produce corn-derived sweeteners compared to other sugar sources. It’s an interesting little microcosm of the uphill battle small local farms face in an increasingly non-local food system. This week, grab some local sweet corn on your way home, boil it or throw it on the grill, spread a little butter on it if you like, and tell me that doesn’t taste like the food system you’d rather have.

Valley Bounty is written by Brian Snell of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)