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