5 Reasons Not to Scorn Organic Corn

The Hedlin alternative

'Tis the season of cheap corn in the stores, and for the past week I've had corn on the brain. Is it worth it, to buy organic from the Market's small farmers, supposing the taste to be equal?

First, to clarify, there's a difference between "field corn" and "sweet corn." Most field corn is grown in the Midwest and made into tortillas, chips, corn syrup, ethanol, corn "plasticware," and animal feed. Chances are, if you're not eating it with your salsa, you're eating it in your processed food products, using it as a utensil to shovel it into your mouth, using it to power your car, and eating it in your feedlot meat. (For a longer discussion of this, see Michael Pollan's chapter on it in The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Then there's sweet corn, the kind we eat off the cob, canned, or in the frozen food section, Washington State is the #1 producer in the U.S. In both cases, here's why my family has gone organic where possible.

1. Most (90% of) field corn and up to 40% of sweet corn is genetically-modified to resist Roundup and produce its own insect toxin. It used to be that field corn was the stuff you had to be wary of, and sweet corn was fine, but Monsanto's recent push into sweet corn seeds has been changing the picture. I wonder how long sweet corn can stay on the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15." It would be a shame to see Washington's wonderful farmland go the way of Iowa and the rest of the Midwest.

2. Corn monoculture is an environmental killer. I'm talking about those fields and fields of corn. I recently read/skimmed Apocalyptic Planet by Craig Childs because I love disaster books, and one of his chapters of planetary disaster was based on the days he and a friend spent out in an Iowa cornfield, where he meditated on species extinction (there were no plants or wildlife to speak of out there, besides corn), the dangers of the favored pesticide atrazine, the rise in genetically-resistant pests, and the plummeting Monarch butterfly populations. Bad stuff, and another reason to buy corn from our small, diversified, local farms.

3. Cheap conventional corn has wrought havoc on Mexico's economy. Because our conventional corn is subsidized, we can sell it to the world at rock-bottom prices. Problem #1: some of their farmers go out of business and have to go looking elsewhere for work, legally or illegally. Problem #2: when our corn prices rise because of drought or diversion to ethanol production, everyone feels the pain.

4. Corn ethanol requires 29 percent more energy to produce than the fuel generates. I know, this post  is supposed to be about the corn we eat, but I had to throw this in because I HATE ethanol. It's environmentally inefficient and lowers gas mileage, to boot.

5. Our Market farmers grow non-GMO, organic varieties that let you bypass reasons 1-4. Try Alvarez Organic's "Rambunction Yellow" corn, grown in Mabton, Washington, over the mountains. Or Hedlin Farms' "Sheba," which Kai describes as super sweet. He says Sheba is actually an early variety, but it comes on later in Western Washington.

A perfect ear of "Rambunctious Yellow"

Boil or grill some up this week, or, if you're over beating up on Paula Deen, try her recipe for Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Salad. Everything but the avocado can be had at our Market!