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Eden Corn Festival celebrates 50 years

Vendors and entertainment may have changed over the years at the Eden Corn Festival, but you can’t argue with success: Chicken barbecue, corn and beer have been offered at the rural festival since 1964.

This year’s 50th edition again features the Chamber of Commerce barbecue, beer sold by Post 880, American Legion, and Eden volunteer firefighters selling corn.

There’s a lot more to this year’s ode to corn in the Southtowns that opens this afternoon: corn eating contests and the corn queen pageant Saturday, baseball games through Saturday, and the craft show, car show and parade Sunday, as well as food and rides throughout the weekend.

“It’s a milestone for the festival, obviously, but we haven’t done anything different,” festival President Jeff Winter said Wednesday afternoon, as vendors set up on the festival grounds on Legion Drive off Route 62.

There are a few changes. The stage on the ball field is gone, and more baseball games are returning this year. The Eden Corn Poppers, a marching unit that drew about 500 members in the 1970s and 1980s, will be inducted into the festival Hall of Fame. New attractions include the World’s Tiniest Woman and the World’s Smallest Horse – two separate booths.

The festival also has invited groups of special-needs children and adults, as it has the past 37 years, giving them several hours of rides and a meal Thursday – before the grounds officially open.

The town expects its population will swell by 100,000 or more over the four-day festival, with about 40,000 ears of corn consumed.

Gary Rice and his son, Dave, volunteer firefighters who head up one of the two booths selling corn on the cob, said they also will go through about 850 pounds of butter and four tons of potatoes that will be deep-fried.

They said the secret to the sweet, tender corn at the festival is in the water. The same water is kept simmering in the large pots throughout the day.

“Every night we drain it,” Dave Rice said. “The sugar cooks out of the corn and then when we empty the water at night, it’s almost like syrup.”

The corn also is picked the morning it is served.

Family and friends come to help out the firefighters at the festival, with 25 workers needed during the rush.

“When it gets busy, you can’t keep up. Every eight minutes I can have about seven dozen ears of corn out, and we can’t keep up,” Rice said.

The money raised at the stand goes toward things like carbon monoxide detectors, the fire chief’s vehicle, and pumps to deal with flooded basements.

And if an emergency call comes in during the festival, the firefighters drop what they’re doing and answer it.

Several years ago, the firefighters had back-to-back calls.

“We were gone for almost four hours between the two. We came back, and it was like nothing happened,” he said. “You don’t really have to say anything. The help hears the pagers go off and the firemen go out, they just get up and help.”