On a 2.5-acre plot south of the Oakbrook Church driveway, a pair of church members grew 68,750 ears of sweet corn to feed the hungry.
The two farmers said they decided last year to be a part of the solution – like their pastor had been preaching at church.
That’s how their project to feed the hungry began.
Well, kind of.
It actually started with a grass problem and a canned food drive.
Brad Downing said he had been thinking about how much money and time was spent every week mowing the church property.
There had to be a way to bring the cost down or at least make the time spent worth something.
About that time, the church had a canned food drive for a local food pantry, and Downing realized the answer to his problem was staring him in the face.
He could turn a portion of the church property into a vegetable patch to grow sweet corn for local food pantries and homeless shelters.
Downing remembers how much he loved going to his backyard as a kid and picking fresh ears of corn for dinner.
He wanted to share that joy with families who don’t have the time, money or space to grow their own.
Downing went to church leadership with his idea.
“They said, ‘If you think you can grow anything out there, go right ahead. That ground is rough,’” Downing recalled.
By that time, fellow farmer Daryl Maple got on board with the project.
The pair teamed up with other area farmers last May to quickly work up what they said was terrible clay ground. They planted the seeds and then waited for a rain that never came.
Last year’s drought destroyed their first crop, Browning said.
Volunteers harvested about two truckloads of corn.
It was enough to make a difference at Kokomo Urban Outreach, though.
The area nonprofit held a community dinner and served the corn to families in need, said Pam Grohman, executive administrator for the organization.
The kids went crazy over it. Some had never had corn on the cob before.
“Many did not know how to eat it,” she said. “One picked it up and tried to eat it like a hot dog. Some tried to cut the corn off with a knife.”
One little boy with no front teeth struggled to eat the corn with his back teeth. He just loved it, though, Grohman said. He managed to eat at least five ears of corn that way, she said.
Later, Maple saw photos of those kids enjoying the food he helped grow.
“It really touched my heart to see the joy on kids’ faces,” he said.
The families that come into Kokomo Urban Outreach food pantries love produce, Grohman said. But usually they don’t have access to those fresh foods.
“That’s something they can’t afford to buy from the grocery store,” she said.
The organization tries to stock its shelves with fruits and vegetables whenever it can, but it relies on local donors for that supply.
The number of people donating food from their gardens is on the rise, Grohman said. There are several private donors, and the county’s community garden produces a lot for the pantries as well.
But it’s not enough to keep up with demand.
More than 100 new families visited Kokomo Urban Outreach food pantries in July.
“The numbers continue to increase,” Grohman said. “The size of our families continues to increase, too.”
Even with the added demand, though, Downing said there should be enough sweet corn this year to feed them all.
The weather was perfect – just the right amount of sun and rain, Downing said.
“I have never seen sweet corn like this in my life,” he said. “Every single stalk has one good ear, and some have two.”
He figured they would have 68,750 ears to donate this year.
Volunteers gathered Thursday night to pick the corn and strip some of it from the cobs. It will take at least another day to finish picking this year’s bountiful harvest.
Downing could hardly believe how good the crop looked, but he wouldn’t take credit for it.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s God’s blessing. He’s working through me.”
Both Downing and Maple said they would love to see their project inspire others to pay it forward. Maybe people have extra vegetables in their garden to donate, or maybe they will consider planting a row for charity next year.
But even if that doesn’t happen, they know something good is happening in that 2.5-acre sweet corn patch.
They see neighbors helping neighbors.
Last year there were toddlers and 70- and 80-year-old people giving up their time to make sure others didn’t go hungry.
“It’s bigger than the church, bigger than ourselves,” Downing said.
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at email@example.com.
WANT TO HELP: If you have extra produce in your garden that you'd like to donate to Kokomo Urban Outreach food pantries, you can drop it off from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1708 S. Home Ave. Or you can volunteer at the Oakbrook Church sweet corn patch. They will meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7 at the church to pick corn and strip it from the cobs. Volunteers are asked to bring plastic grocery bags and quart-sized, resealable plastic bags.