Watch the Corn Grow

Community comes together to husk and eat corn for the annual Adel Corn Festival.

By Craig Summers Black

Photography by Dan Brouillette


Adel Corn Festival“Everyone at the festival is a volunteer,” says Robert Burditt, a financial services guy now in his sixth year as chairman. “I bet we have 500 for the day. A lot of them are repeaters every year. There’s no incentive. We don’t give away T-shirts. There’s no free food. We just need you. This community—it’s amazing to me. If somebody needs help, they all pitch in. And people really focus on the Sweet Corn Festival. They have family reunions around it.”

Time was when the brick streets of Adel used to run yellow this time of year, the result of thousands of pairs of hands dripping melted butter while they walked and ate. One year the fire department had to lay down kitty litter all over town, then hose the place off.

“They get slippery,” says retiree Rich Hughes, the volunteer in charge of the cooking operations. “We’ll go through 36 gallons of butter. This year we use gallon jugs with hand pumps so you just get as much butter as you need.”

And little drippy meltage.

“It’s funny to see people butter their corn,” Hughes says. “Everyone likes a lot of butter. But you have to remember that corn is hot. They make a mess. You should see the look on their faces.”

Perhaps the sweetest face at the Sweet Corn Fest is that of little Caitlyn Robertson, who at all of 15 months old is having her first taste of sweet corn.

“Look,” says mom Lindsey. “She’s not wearing as much butter a half the people here.”

If you’ve ever taken the interstate through Iowa and driven through hours and hours of cornfields, what you are looking at is not sweet corn. It is feed corn. Food for pigs.

It takes a special kind of farmer to make the numbers work to actually raise corn to feed people. And Ron Deardorff is that kind of farmer. He’s been growing the sweet corn for the festival for at least the past 20 years.

Deardorff grows about 155 acres of sweet corn, about the same of feed corn, and some soybeans (“beans,” they call them out here) and pumpkins.

“But sweet corn is my main crop,” he says. “I do 20 different planting dates, because it’s impossible to determine when they’ll be ready, what with the weather and the temperature.