6.27.2009

There's a Cornshop On The Corner

(Written June 9) I am leaving Iowa, and in my wake, I am leaving miles and miles of 6 inch stalks of corn. It is nice to finally see some greenery in Iowa; the landscape has been mostly brown and white for the last 6 months. The tiny little shoots are finally dotting the landscape and creating a feeling of Spring in the air.
I learned a few things about corn while in Iowa, some of it, ironically from a book that I just happened to read while I was here, called Omnivore’s Dilemma, and much of it from the farmers and locals themselves. For instance, did you know that pretty much all of Iowa’s corn is not eaten in it’s natural form by humans? By this I mean that most of the corn grown in Iowa is considered “type-2” corn, and is used for animal feed and processed foods, such as corn meal and corn syrup. Oh and of course don’t forget about Ethanol.
There is very little “sweet corn” (edible corn) that is grown in the state. Also, I don’t know if I was the only one that thought this, but I was under the impression that when the corn was harvested, the combine took it off as a whole cob. However, that is not the case. The combine strips the cobs off the stalk and then the kernels off the cob and distributes this into a trailer that drives along side it. The cobs, stalks and leaves get put on the ground and later get rolled into bales or put in a corn crib where they dry out and are either fed to cattle or put back on the fields later for fertilizer of sorts.
Speaking of fertilizer, the farmers in Iowa used to keep a few animals around in order to fertilize their crops (which were also a lot smaller back in the day). Until after World War II, when scientists were trying to figure out what to do with some of the left over agents of chemical warfare. Enter the man made fertilizer that we know today. After that was figured out, the farmers nearly stopped using animal manure all together. Until recently, when huge pig farms cropped up in the Iowa landscape. These farms each hold about 2,500 pigs each and are quite plentiful. I don’t know the exact facts, but there something like 2 or 3 times the amount of pigs to people in Iowa. There are about 3 million people in Iowa, so do the math. Anyway, some farmers get the pig manure and use it on their fields.
Anyway, I digress. While I was in Iowa, my main job was doing damage assessments for Drainage Districts. A drainage district is a district made up of 2 or more farmers who share drainage pipe or ditches. The farmers in Iowa used to use clay pipe which has holes in it in order to get water into it; they would run it a couple feet underneath their fields so that when there was excessive water, it would drain down through the ground, into the pipe and then get carried to a ditch and eventually into the river. At least two farmers have to share the pipe for it to become a “district”, otherwise it is considered privately owned. So I spent a lot of time while in Iowa looking at fields, ditches and pipes. Actually I learned a lot while I was there and the people of the mid-west were quite friendly and usually eager to answer all my annoying questions about corn and drainage.

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