Alan Henry wasn’t planning to enter the corn contest at the Eden Corn Festival until two hours before judging took place.
But when contest organizers were looking for more entries, the 15-year-old stepped up and entered 14 ears he grew. It was judged the best corn of the year, better than ears from the large commercial farms that grow corn for a living.
And thus Henry became this year’s Corn King, the unofficial name given to the winner of Eden’s corn judging contest.
He is the youngest winner ever in the contest that dates back to the start of the corn festival in 1964.
The names on the traveling trophy, engraved each year like the winners of the Stanley Cup, read like a who’s who of commercial farms in the Southtowns: Henry W. Agle & Sons, W.D. Henry & Sons and Amos Zittel & Sons, as well as Salzman, Chiavetta, Eckhardt, Rosiek and Yager farms. It’s a small group, with most winning multiple times over the years for bragging rights, until the next contest.
And this year, there will be another Henry name on the trophy. There also is a large trophy he gets to keep.
“I think it’s really nice to have it. It reminds you of the hard work you put into it,” he said.
You might say Alan Henry comes by farming honestly. His parents and father’s cousins are commercial farmers. But he doesn’t make his living doing it, and next month he will return to Eden Junior/Senior High School, where he will enter his sophomore year.
Henry is the youngest winner to plant, cultivate and harvest his own crop, organizers said.
His parents, Martin and Barbara, “kind of” guide him, he said. They operate Henry’s Gardens greenhouses and a cut flower operation.
Henry planted corn seeds in bare ground in April on his family’s Sisson Highway farm, where his parents grow zinnias for Wegmans Markets. He did not cover them with plastic, like some of the big farms do.
“Most of the growing, cultivating, fertilizing and working the ground is all done by myself,” he said.
That included a lot of watering this year, the third year he has grown corn. He planted about two acres of white and bicolor corn and about five acres of onions, peppers, eggplant and tomato.
He sells his corn for $5 a dozen at a little self-serve stand at the end of his driveway. After buying a dirt bike, he put most of his proceeds in the bank for college, and for buying new seeds for next year.
Seed catalogs come in December, and he looked through them, and picked out a seed to try: Extra Tender 274A.
“It seems like the best variety,” he said.
Longtime area farmers Ronald Salzman and Henry Mroz judged the six entries, looking for uniform length of ears with straight rows, no insect or other damage to the kernels or ears, and husks with deep green color. They did not know whose entries they were judging Aug. 6.
“It is great to see the ambition of a young man such as Alan, in the growing of his sweet corn and his desire to select the best possible ears for entry,” said Dave Eckhardt, who organized this year’s contest.
“As fellow farmers, we are delighted to see youth involved in agriculture,” one Eden farmer added.
Alan said he probably will go into the field of agriculture when he finishes school.