Ohio is a big part of the history of the Corn Belt, and when I started research on my book, Midwest Maize, a few years ago, I definitely wanted to interview people in Ohio. I was directed by friends to Ed and Sylvia Zimmerman, who have a farm not far from Columbus. That was a few years ago, but we enjoyed each other’s company, and I’ve been invited back a few times.
My most recent visit, a few weeks ago, is when I learned about the festival I mentioned in the previous post—but that’s not why I went to visit. Sylvia had invited me to not only spend a few days on the farm, but also to speak at the Magnetic Springs Café—her newest project, which was just an old building at the beginning of refurbishing when last I visited.
The topic was, of course, corn—I have a presentation I give titled “How Corn Changed Itself and then Changed Everything Else.” I’d given it successfully at a few venues in Chicago, but this time, I’d be surrounded by corn people—people who live with corn, from developing seeds to growing and harvesting to getting corn to market. A little intimidating. However, it was a wonderfully sympathetic crowd, as well—I didn’t have to convince them first that corn is a big deal. We had a splendid evening. Sylvia’s food was excellent, and my presentation was well received.
If you find yourself in the Columbus area and Magnetic Springs isn’t too far out of your way, you might want to consider detouring through and having breakfast or lunch with Sylvia at the café. The historic town is small enough that you don’t really need directions—find the main street, and you’re there. The meal will be excellent, home-style cooking in a charming setting.
Charming interior of Sylvia’s Magnetic Springs Café
I’ll post more soon about other places in Ohio, as well as earlier visits to the Zimmerman farm. But since I shared a couple of posts ago about caring for mom this summer, I thought I’d also mention a few of the fun things I’d fit in, between hospital visits. So more to come.
Traveling around the U.S. reminds one that there are myriad wonderful things to see, do, learn, and experience. During the summer and fall in particular, fairs and festivals join the museums and living history venues as potential destinations. On a recent trip to Ohio, I learned about a delightful festival that I won’t, in fact, be able to attend—but maybe you can.
In the region just a few miles northwest of Columbus, rivers and streams are regularly crossed by wonderful, old, covered bridges. At least one of the bridges is large enough that it serves as a venue for events and dinner parties. However, next weekend, September 18–20, 2015, many of the bridges will be highlighted during the Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival. As the name suggests, there is more to this than just covered bridges. There will be music, food, storytellers, crafts, cooking demonstrations, farmers’ market, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more. So if you’re in that part of Ohio this coming weekend, it might be something to add to your “to do” list. Should be a great way to celebrate the end of summer.
For lots more info, including maps and schedules, check out festival website: Covered Bridge Bluegrass Festival.
Having posted photos and stories of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, I thought I should also mention that Mitchell is not by any means alone in honoring corn in a big way. Sure, it’s probably the most impressive and certainly the most complex of the monuments to corn here in the Midwest, but it’s not alone.
In Midwest Maize, I relate why Olivia, Minnesota, might actually feel justified in considering itself “The Corn Capital,” as the sign near the entrance to town announces, but simply being located in one of the country’s top four corn-growing states is a good starting point. This spring, I was invited to give my presentation—“How Corn Changed Itself and Then Changed Everything Else”—at the library in Olivia, which pleased me, given the area’s corn-centric economy. Someone in Olivia had supplied me with a photo of Olivia’s giant ear of corn, but when I visited, I was able to get my own shot of the big ear.
Several months earlier, I had visited another impressive monument to the golden grain in Dublin, Ohio, not far from Columbus. Here, an art installation titled “Field of Corn” features 109 concrete ears of corn that stand 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Worth noting is that it was not far from this area of Ohio that the Corn Belt actually started.
Clearly, the massive impact of corn on the Midwest is very much appreciated by those who live in the region.
After the tractor, the next big advance was the self-propelled combine—a harvesting machine that you drove, rather than dragging it behind a tractor. The modern combine looks more like a space station than a piece of farm equipment. The combine on display at the Pavilion is fitted with a wheat head—a front end that harvests wheat. In 1954, John Deere introduced the first corn head—though combines then looked more like golf carts, and the corn head only harvested two rows at a time. Things have definitely changed since 1954.
And just so you know what a corn head looks like, here’s a photo I took from the cabin of an International Harvester combine during harvest time in Ohio. You’ll note that it’s quite a bit different from the wheat head, and is clearly designed for row crops. (I think this photo also shows why being in the middle of a cornfield is sometimes compared to being at sea.)
Traveling around the Midwest, one learns that color matters. There are a number of manufacturers of harvesting equipment, but the two “species” one encounters most commonly in the Heartland are made by John Deere or Case/International Harvester. Green with yellow means John Deere farm equipment. (There are other green combines in the world, but one quickly learns the precise shade of green that means John Deere for farmers.) Red usually means International Harvester (and the combine in the second photo is IH red). It can also mean Massey Ferguson, but I never saw one of their combines on a corn farm. People are as divided and as loyal as any car owner you’ve ever met. Yellow is pretty much reserved for earth-moving equipment, even when it’s made by John Deere. (Hence, a book on the history of the earth-moving equipment industry is titled Yellow Steel.)