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Corn

08/07/08 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) As we begin to enjoy the first sweet-corn of the season, author, gardener, and commentator Ron Krupp observes that America's over-all dependency on corn is really too much of a good thing.

(KRUPP) Since the 1970's, corn has taken over America. It all began when Earl Butz, the former Secretary of Agriculture in the early 70's under President Nixon, decided the best thing for U.S. farmers to do was to plant corn from "fence row to fence row."  Butz grew up during the Great Depression of 1929.  He knew what it meant for people to go hungry.
 
What has occurred since the early 1970's has had major implications for our food culture. Most of today's corn comes from genetically modified seeds and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Corn feeds the cattle that become burgers; high fructose corn syrup provides the sweetening for Cokes and shakes; and corn oil cooks those fries we love to eat. Of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, a third come from processed corn. This contributes to the sad fact that we have become a nation of overweight and fat people.
 
Isn't it ironic that corn is an ancient grain that was revered for thousands of years by the First Nation Peoples. They called it by many names, including maize. The three sisters - corn, beans and squash - made up the foundation of native American agriculture. Maize is not like any other plant in terms of its amazing diversity. It's more versatile than other grains because it grows easily in soils that receive too much moisture for wheat or too little moisture for rice. While rice grows best in semi-tropical zones and wheat flourishes primarily in temperate zones, corn thrives in both. The Native Americans cultivated rapid-growing varieties in areas as cold as Canada and the highlands of Chile. Inca farmers cultivated it on the terraced sides of the Andean mountains, and Hopi farmers irrigated it and made it grow in the hottest and driest deserts of the United States.
 
Whereas the Old World grains came from only a few varieties of wheat and barley, the indigenous native Americans developed hundreds of varieties of dent and flint corn, sweet corn, and popcorn. By the mid-eighteenth century, European newcomers to North America had accepted Indian corn as their staple food. They had corn for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
 
In our own backyard, as late as the 1930's, the history of flint corn and Vermont agriculture are intimately connected.  Few people remember when there were husking bees and farm families would go from farm to farm, removing the husks from the Calais flint corn. That's when potluck suppers were part of daily life in the Green Mountains.  Potluck comes from the tribal word "potlatch."  Considering how radically corn has changed in less than forty years, isn't it time we found healthier ways to sustain this most precious resource?
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