My first business

A friend’s social media post caused me to reflect back to my days as a young farmer.

I had a sweet corn farm in the 1970s, my first business, at age 16-18. It started with about 3 of dad’s acres and peaked at about 8 rented acres. Dad had a John Deere 2010 model tractor and a plow. A farmer neighbor tolerated my inexperience, gave advice, and sometimes let me borrow equipment. I purchased a planting machine that I walked down each row. Almost identical machines are still sold today.

A manual one down planting machine like I used in the 1970s

We were an organic farm which meant manual tilling in spring to control weeds until the corn was tall enough to block most weeds.

A John Deere 2010 tractor like ours in the 1970s

We had a roadside farm stand on Stump Hall Road in Worcester PA. I sold to Genaurdi’s supermarket (back when they had only one store in Norristown) and some smaller produce stores. I had a 1946 Dodge pickup truck that I rebuilt myself that was used to deliver the corn. It wasn’t very fast but I loved it.

A 1946 Dodge pickup truck like I drove in the 1970s

Back then I paid every kid in the neighborhood who was willing to work 1 cent per ear for picking. My brother John was so fast that he could run down the rows with a burlap bag on each shoulder (I didn’t like that he pushed holes on the bags for his arms to fit through) and could earn an astronomical $8 per hour with his picking method. I sold for 8 cents per ear retail ($1 per dozen). The two varieties most popular at that time were butter and sugar, an early crop, and silver queen, a tall late season crop that ran well into September.

When I went away for college in early September 1978, shortly after turning age 18, I thought that was the end of the corn business. I had bigger things on my mind. When I returned home for the first time about a month later in October, I was amazed and thrilled to find that my father and siblings continued the operation and, after paying themselves and expenses, there was a jar on top of the refrigerator with enough cash, probably about $200, to pay my out-of-pocket expenses* for the rest of the semester. It was my first lesson in business that I’ve never forgotten.

I soon decided that farming was too much work for too little pay, I switched my focus to veterinary medicine but by the time I graduated college I realized that becoming a business executive with a farm as a hobby would be a better life choice for me.

*I still remember that my budget then was $20 per week. It was all cash, we didn’t use debit cards in those days and a rural kid would not have a credit card. $5 was allocated for beer. I wasn’t a big beer drinker but this was expected contribution at my dormitory. A case of 16 ounce Genesse Cream Ale, our usual choice, cost $4. Another $5 was allocated for snacks when we left campus. The other $10 was for an LP album or clothes. Records and jeans were both around $10 then and I had a growing record collection.