Sweet corn and a second chance
In 1986, heavy spring rains brought the Elk Grove farm of Cliff Wilcox sputtering to a halt after 90 years of operation. Officials had breached a nearby levee in the hope of sparing urban areas downstream a disastrous inundation, and for Wilcox, the disaster was all his. After the waters subsided, his sheds and stalls lay in sodden ruins and hundreds of freshly planted acres—seeded using loaned money—were swamped. Debt and crop failure followed that summer, and Wilcox sold all but 22 acres of his land and took a long vacation from farming.
But last year, Wilcox and his nephew Eric Vercruyssen brought the farm back to life. They planted and harvested an abundance of fruits and vegetables for their own use and, overwhelmed by the surplus, began giving a great deal away to friends. When neighbors began offering to buy into the bounty, Wilcox and Vercruyssen decided it was time to resume business. This summer, the pair is working the Thursday West Sacramento Farmers Market under the name Stonelake Farms and selling sweet and hot peppers, summer squash, watermelons and a handful of other products.
They will also have corn, which—just like last year’s crop—is about two weeks late following a very cool spring. Vercruyssen and Wilcox, who are in the multiyear process of gaining organic certification, grow a nongenetically modified variety called jubilee, a yellow hybrid favored partly for the relatively long period of time that it may be left unpicked in a ripened state without losing its flavor or crunch. Some other varieties must be harvested within a five-day window of ripeness, a time constraint that Vercruyssen, who often works the fields on his own, can’t always meet. He says he expects between 15,000 and 25,000 ears of corn between now and October.
“There’ll be a lot of walking the rows with a burlap sack,” Vercruyssen said, adding that his veteran uncle “has all the old-school knowledge and the tricks.”
“I’m the young workhorse,” he said.
The season’s first corn is now coming in, meaning—if it wasn’t here already—summer is officially on.