Growing up in a small town was pretty simple, there wasn’t much to do other than drive around, go to school, get a job, and for some, work on the family farm. I did everything there was to do the in neighboring towns, since I lived in the country, but there was something missing. I was ten years old when I started fully working and having large responsibilities on the family farm. My father worked two jobs, he was a farmer and he was a seed sales manager at Inness Farm Supply in Galesburg Illinois. One day my father came to me and asked if I wanted to come to work at IFS with him, being a young kid, I accepted the invitation.
I loved every part of my father’s job, the data entry, talking to customer, going to meetings, palletizing seed, going on seed deliveries, putting up field signs with variety and brand numbers, and consulting other farmers on what seed would fit their need. I asked the owner of the company, George Inness, if I could assist my father as a job and he said,
“You’re a young man, and I think it’s a great idea that you get a job where you assist your father. I’ve seen you work with your father and how hard you work reminds me of myself at your age.”
I started at ten dollars an hour and during the summers and I would work fifty hours a week and earned a steady paycheck. Not too bad for a ten year old I must say. I would work on breaks from school when there was no classes and would hang out with friends after that. It was a good life and I soon learned that I was destined to work in agriculture. Seeing that business flourish I felt that I wanted to make my mark in the area with a business of my own.
After a couple years of working and saving money and helping the family of IFS with their summer sweet corn business I saw the economic opportunity of sweet corn. The next year I was thirteen and I asked my dad if we could section off a piece of our 1,000 acres to plant a sweet corn patch. My dad said,
“Yeah, we can take one acre out of the field around the house near the road and plant some sweet corn. I found a sweet corn variety that would work great on that soil.”
We then got started on planning the business around planting season. We use a 12 row corn planter with 2 pounds of seed distributed between all the units evenly. In short that season didn’t fare too well because it wasn’t glyphosate resistant sweet corn and once we sprayed the main field for pests the sweet corn withered away and there wasn’t much more than 20 ears that were edible and presentable. My heart was crushed but instead of sulking over the failed season we just planned for the next. My father found a glyphosate, corn borer, and ear worm resistant variety and the next year we planted it.
That season, once the sweet corn came up we sprayed a post emergence chemical program and not surprisingly the sweet corn survived. Not just survived, but flourished in that one acre patch. The ears were big and beautiful and destine for sale. About a week before the sweet corn was ready for consumption I contacted the manager of the local McDonalds off I-74 and asked if we could set up a sweet corn stand out front. She was delighted by the idea if we kept the area, where our stand was, clean and free of clutter.
The time to sell was approaching fast as was the Knox County Fair. We made signs with our prices of $3 a dozen, a dozen meaning 13 or 14 ears a bag, a pop up canopy, and a cash box which was an old ammunition can. We would use five gallon buckets and a wheel barrow to pick the sweet corn early in the morning. It was my sister Sarah, my mother Sharon, my father Phil, and myself. We picked and picked until the bed of our pickup was stacked and full of sweet corn, stacking instead of just throwing ears in would save space as well as be more presentable.
We sold 100 dozen a day for a whole week and even got money donations, because I was saving for college. That season was amazing and I learned a lot and had very interesting conversations with my customers. That summer was one of the best summers of my life.
We continued with the business for another year using the same business plan as before and then my father and I decided that it could be even more productive. We took out two acres and we put seed only in selected rows to make an alley way for the wheel borrow to go through. We stacked the rows and snapped off the shank at the end of the ear for more of a visual aesthetic. The selling season was a little different than previous years because everyone knew who we were and I received an offer from Hy-Vee grocery store to buy 120 dozen at bulk cost of $2 a dozen. I accepted the offer and my sweet corn brand continued to grow. I also sold to Hi-Lo in Galesburg, similar to Hy-Vee, and they bought 75 dozen.
A few years passed and the business stayed the way it had been with selling at McDonalds and to the local grocery stores. By the time I was 17 a lot of people would stop by the stand at McDonalds and even told me they saw my corn in grocery stores. I felt that it was the time to expand and open another stand up. My best friend Zach had a pickup truck and we worked out a deal with Serloin Stockaid to set up his truck with a stand in Galesburg but it didn’t last long. That stand didn’t last because of the amount of traffic, or lack of. By that time everyone saw the opportunity of sweet corn and decided to grow and sell their own but I felt that my business was superior because of the visual, price, and deliciousness of the product being sold. We sold out of corn day by day and after two weeks we picked the field dry. This season was a total success.
My business was working great with the location, price, and the fact that it was a small town, everyone knew me personally and strictly bought from me and they were also aware of my charitable contribution to the Galesburg homeless shelter. Business was booming, so much so, that we stacked the truck up with a heaping load of sweet corn every day during the next season. Then it was off to college.
I got accepted at Western Illinois University, I’m now in my third year as a junior majoring in agriculture business and economics and I still go home every summer to sell sweet corn to the people that come by the Knoxville McDonalds. This year will be tough to do so because I received an amazing opportunity, working at the agronomy field lab for WIU with Dr. Mark Bernards. I’m very excited for this job but I still want to sell the sweet corn that I have for the past years. Oh well, this is a once in a life time opportunity and I don’t want to give it up I might not have to, in order to run my childhood business because I can do it on the weekends and during my times off of work. I excited for the summer to come.
My name is Ethan Deane Johnson and I’m a junior majoring agriculture business and economics with a minor is scuba diving. I grew up outside a town of 400 in central Illinois called Gilson. I’m a 7th generation farmer and my hopes are to take over the farm one day.
Thanks for reading.