Larson’s Premium Sweet Corn

22 08 2009

by Emily Larson

DSC_8619“Did you leave Mary at home today?” the woman asked jovially as she walked up to the roadside corn stand. “Oh no, she’s working at school today,” Larry Larson explained with a smile. The woman asked for five ears of sweet corn, paused to think, then took ten instead. Larry and this customer chatted comfortably about the rapid close of summer and the upcoming school year before he turned to help another customer. In the shade of the white tent, Larry sat on gray plastic crates he used to bring in the freshest pick. His high school aged kids, both of whom have helped on the farm “since they were knee high to a grasshopper,” according to Larry, took a break from their afternoon sales in the back of the van labeled “Willmar Grown” Quality Vegetables.

The Larson Premium Sweet Corn Stand sits in a parking lot of a strip mall next to a mattress store on the main drag in Willmar, MN where they are deeply rooted in the community. Mary and Larry have been farming in Willmar for 25 years, and have occupied their roadside stand for the last 16. All the locals know where to find them– next to the Rainbow playground equipment and in front of the blow-up Serta sheep–and they know nothing beats the flavor, texture and freshness of Larson’s corn. “We’re known in the community as the place to get produce,” Larry said, and since it is picked each morning, it is hard to find anywhere fresher.

In addition to their work with the Farm to School program, the Larsons bring thousands of ears of corn toDSC_8591 the Kandiyohi County Fair, donate corn for the YMCA and Legion fundraisers, and last year they donated over ten thousand pounds of produce to the local food shelf. Most of the nursing homes in Willmar serve Larson corn to their residents every other week, and the residents enjoy the familiar feeling of shucking the corn themselves. “It makes for a good day for them,” Larry noted.

For the last five or six years, Larry has visited the elementary schools to show the students pictures of the farm and teach them about how food is grown. Three years ago, when Willmar started the Farm to School program, they approached Mary about being involved. Each year, the Larson’s bring close to one hundred dozen ears of corn to the school, pre-shucked. That means the whole family helps get 1,200 ears of corn ready to go to school. The schools also get squash from the Larsons and they may get tomatoes this year too. One challenge the schools face, as Larry illuminated, is that when all the local produce is in season, the schools aren’t.

Reflecting on the past few years, Larry guesses that the demand for local food in Willmar is five times higher than when they started farming. The cost of shipping food in from far away makes local food competitive, even at higher prices. But at the end of the day, “it is quality quality quality,” Larry said, which really makes the difference between sweet corn picked two weeks before, ten states away, and Larson sweet corn, picked fresh and delivered to hungry customers in a matter of minutes.

To view more photos of Larson’s Premium Sweetcorn, please see the Flickr slideshow.

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