On a sunny, fall day, I headed to Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago. This is a restored farmstead that dates to the 1890s, and like many such places, is populated with splendidly well-informed, historically costumed interpreters who can introduce you to the period.
Though I was looking forward to exploring the entire location, I had picked the time of my visit to coincide with the Corn Harvest. Before we would be allowed into the fields, to pluck the golden cobs from their stalks, we were treated to “Corn College,” a brief lecture on how farming in the 1890s compared to present day.
In the 1890s, farmers planted 8,000 to 10,000 seeds per acre, and hoped for a harvest of 25 to 30 bushels of corn per acre.
In the 1930s, hybrids were introduced. At first, in the rush to make things bigger and better, corn was bred that was too tall, with ears that were too big, so stalks fell over. But they eventually got it right.
Today, farmers plant as much as 36,000 seeds per acre, and look for yields of 200 bushels of corn per acre. Not only does each plant produce more corn than the older varieties, but plants have also been bred to tolerate being closer together, so more can be grown.
But the old-style fields at Kline Creek, with their wide rows, were handsome and sunny, and I stopped to photograph them as we walked into the fields to harvest the corn. We harvested by hand, as was done well into the 1900s. Snap the ear off the stalk, pull off the husk, and toss the corn into the horse-drawn wagon that kept pace with our progress across the field. We only harvested a couple of rows. Had to leave some for the visitors who would come throughout the week.