Pick of the crop
Penick's Sweet Corn in Carlisle remains a summertime favorite in central Iowa for nearly 30 years.
Type “Penick’s Sweet Corn” in an internet search bar, and you’ll immediately pull up a number of favorable news articles about the business.
Penick’s Sweet Corn is a central Iowa staple and has been around since 1992, when Mike Penick and his wife, Tracy, started growing sweet corn as a way to earn money for their two daughters’ college funds.
To start, they planted about an acre of sweet corn on their farm in Carlisle. Once it was ready, they picked it and sold what they had for about a week or however long the inventory lasted. The earnings went to their daughters’ savings accounts.
The girls were been 6 and 3 years old at the time, and the rules were that they had to assist in picking and selling the corn.
Penick recalls that they weren’t “a whole lot of help picking it,” but they still would rather have been out in the field than sitting at the roadside stand because they got bored quickly, which led to bickering between the sisters.
For about five years after they started their sweet corn operation, the Penicks simultaneously raised hogs. They realized they wanted to do more with sweet corn, though, so the family quit their hog business and planted 6 more acres of corn. Little by little, they continued to expand. This year, the Penicks have 37 acres of sweet corn.
And although it’s no longer the kids’ college fund project, the business is an important revenue stream for the Penicks.
“If we’ve got to be honest, it’s the money,” Penick says of why he sells Penick’s Sweet Corn. “You can’t deny that. It started out as a fundraiser for the kids, but it’s become more of a full-time job.”
Currently, Penick’s Sweet Corn sets up shop at a roadside stand in Busy Bee Garden Center’s parking lot on Highway 65/69 just outside of Indianola. Lots of traffic runs by the location, which helps them sell lots of their product. They’re open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, typically from July through Labor Day.
The long hours mean the Penicks don’t have time for much else during the summer months.
“It’s not a nine to five job,” Penick says. “You’re up early in the morning, and then you don’t get to bed too early by the time you get stuff done.”
But the family loves growing and selling sweet corn, so they wouldn’t have it any other way —even in a growing year as challenging as this one with Iowa’s early summer drought conditions.
The Penicks have other farming operations to maintain over the winter months, like working on machinery or hauling grain, so their sweet corn business remains a side job that takes up their summer.
When you hear customer’s reviews of sweet corn from the Penick’s Sweet Corn stand, it’s easy to see why the hectic summer months are worth it for the family.
Says one happy customer, “Wonderful corn and wonderful family.”
Giardino is a freelance writer from Polk City.
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