This Area’s ‘Hidden’ Celebrity, AKA The Corn Man
Talking good, garming and his delicious product
Those of us of a certain age carry a memory of summer that will never be erased—the sheer anticipation-laced joy of hearing the ice cream truck as it rolled onto your street. For some of us who end up in the Sandpoint area in late summer at just the right time, that feeling is matched by the arrival of The Corn Man at the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market. A mob forms as soon as he’s spotted unloading those large, burlap bags filled with golden goodness, and those late to the party stand in the line anxiously, hoping they’re close enough to buy a dozen ears before they’re sold out. It wouldn’t surprise me if some enterprising youngster develops an app to announce The Corn Man’s appearance.
The Corn Man also goes by the name Jim Cadnum, and he lives and farms up in the ‘north country’ of Bonners Ferry. He took a little time after a day’s work in the fields to answer a few questions about his journey to becoming the area’s most appreciated fall celebrity.
Q. What is your background? Are you a native or a newcomer to the area? How long have you been farming?
A. I grew up on a small farm in northern Ohio. My father grew sweet corn so I learned how to pick when I was about 12. My two younger brothers and I spent a large portion of the summer months hoeing corn. I moved to Boundary County in 1976. I first started selling sweet corn at the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market in 1995. I grew an experimental crop in 1994 but I only sold about 600 dozen that year. So I have been farming here for 18 years. I was in my late 40s when I began and now I’m in my mid 60s. I can hardly believe that it has been that long.
Q. Do you do anything other than grow corn?
A. My profession is forestry. I worked for many years for a timber company. Beginning in 1995 I became a consultant forester. I still take on an occasional job but I’m mostly retired from forestry work. Beating the brush at my age is not as easy as it was when I was in my 50s.
Q. Corn isn’t particularly easy to grow here in North Idaho. What kind of set-up do you have for growing?
A. You’re correct that it isn’t easy growing corn here. All the cool weather and rain in May and June make it difficult to get the plantings started. Once the warmer weather arrives in July, the corn takes off. I’m fortunate to have good soil on the northern edge of the Kootenai Valley. The location generally experiences warmer temperatures than are found in many Boundary County areas. I have an excellent well so there is no shortage of water for irrigating. My operation is large enough to require equipment. I have a tractor, plow, disk, drag, cultipacker, cultivator, roto-tiller, and rotary mower. I also have a grain drill. I sow peas as a cover crop where I grew corn the previous year. I use the grain drill for sowing the peas. I don’t have much competition because most people aren’t foolish enough to invest in so much equipment in order to grow a couple of acres of sweet corn.
Q. It’s an old adage that corn should be ‘knee high by the 4th of July.’ Is that true in this area?
A. That old saying is more applicable to field corn grown in the Midwest. I have five plantings spaced about 10 days apart, so the final planting is usually barely up by July 4. Even my first planting won’t be knee high on July 4 this year. Conditions have been worse than usual this year. The ornamental corn is a field corn and it is nearly knee high now.
Q. What type of corn do you grow?
A. For many years I have grown a yellow, sugar-enhanced variety called Kandy King. The seed company has discontinued producing this variety. This year my first three plantings are Kandy King. I am trying a new variety—Honey Select. It is supposed to be even better-tasting than Kandy King. The problem is that Honey Select takes about a week longer to mature. I will have to find a new variety for the first planting in the future. Then I will use Honey Select for the rest of the plantings if people like it. I have enough Kandy King seed to use for the first planting for the next two or three years. After then it will likely not germinate very well.
Q. Do you have any tips for local gardeners on how to get a corn crop?
A. Proper location is the most important requirement for growing corn in northern Idaho. Areas in Boundary County are generally better suited for growing sweet corn than those in Bonner County. There are varieties of sweet corn that mature in about 60 days in the Midwest. A home gardener should look for an early maturing variety. The ears will be smaller and less tasty, but at least there will likely be a crop to harvest in cooler locations. The early maturing varieties are not sugar enhanced, so they are not as sweet as the later varieties. An early variety that has been around for many years is Early Sunglow.
Q. Do you grow more than corn to sell at market?
A. My three crops are sweet corn, ornamental corn, and pumpkins. Sweet corn is my major crop. I grow 2.25 acres of sweet corn compared to just .15 acre each for the pumpkins and ornamental corn. I generally sell around 2,000 dozen ears of sweet corn per season, depending upon growing conditions and when the first hard frost hits. In some years I have sold as much as 2,700 dozen. I take the pumpkins and ornamental corn to the market on the final Saturday in October (Harvest Festival). Most of the ornamental corn goes to the markets at Greenbluff near Spokane.
Q. When is the best time for someone to catch “The Corn Man” at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market?
A. The corn is usually ready by late August and available into October until it is killed by the first hard freeze. The market is open on Wednesdays from 3:00 until 5:30 and on Saturday from 9:00 until 1:00. It’s best to get to the market at opening time because I often run out in late August and early September. Later on the novelty wears off a little and I have more corn to sell. I’m not as likely to run out in late September and into October.
Q. It’s an old adage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and your daughter (Brenda Woodward) is the President of the Famer’s Market. How’d that come about?
A. Cadnums have been farmers since my great-great-grandfather Robert Cadnum migrated to the United States from England in the 1850s. Like many characteristics, I believe that love of farming is partially acquired from environment and partly from genetics. Brenda acquired the “farmer gene” from both sides of her family. Brenda lived with her mother in her teen years, and her mother is passionate about gardening.
Q. Do you have any wise words about food?
A. It seems that generally what tastes good isn’t good for you. Fortunately, fresh sweet corn tastes good and is fairly good for you as long as you don’t load it with too much butter.
Q. Anything else you’d like to say to people?
A. I really appreciate all my loyal customers. I feel fortunate to be able to produce a crop that is so well-received. Years ago I told my father that I was thinking about growing sweet corn. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to sell very much of it because there wasn’t the customer base here. I wish that he were alive today to see the people lining up to buy my corn. A big “Thank You” to all of my customers!
YOUR CHANCE TO WIN SOME 'CORN MAN' CORN! Never had The Corn Man’s Corn (or any fresh corn) and want to try it? Send us a paragraph explaining why you need this experience and we’ll pick one lucky winner to get a dozen ears free in September. Email your entry to trish(AT)riverjournal.com, mail it to the River Journal at PO Box 151, Clark Fork, ID 83811 or put it on our Facebook page and one of you will get to experience one of the best tastes in the world!