Corn harvest begins for Chester County Food Bank

Jessica Lyons picks corn at the Gibb Farm in Cochranville for the Chester County Food Bank. Chris Barber -- 21st Century Media
Volunteer Carol Peterson looks over the first load of corn that was harvested on Saturday for the food bank in Cochranville. Chris Barber -- 21st Century Media

HIGHLAND >> It’s a little late this year, but corn is now on the menu for participants in the services of the Chester County Food Bank.

The agency based in West Chester distributes food throughout the year to people in need through the many food cupboards and outreach programs in the area.

On Saturday, a seven-member team came early to Gibbs Farm in Cochranville to harvest corn for three hours in the fields just off Limestone Road in Highland Township.

Out there the plants are as high as the proverbial “elephant’s eye,” and the fields seem to go on forever.

Food Bank Director Larry Welsch said the corn was a long time coming this year, possibly because of the late spring and cold winter. Originally, the first harvest was scheduled for Monday, Aug. 4, but it had to be postponed until the weekend because it hadn’t ripened sufficiently.

With Welsh were his wife, the food bank administrative assistant, the driver of the truck and four volunteers. They were outfitted with sturdy cloth bags with straps that were slung over their shoulders. After they filled up the bags, they returned to the truck area and deposited their fill into large cardboard boxes. Then they went out for more.

The 260-tract of land on which the crop is grown is owned by Bob and Jennifer McNeil. There are six acres of sweet corn, and they have designated a section in the first 16 rows for the food bank.

Volunteers will return to that location eight more times this summer, Welsch said, and each section is expected to yield crops three times until the season ends in late September.

On Wednesday, Aug. 13, volunteers from Mision Santa Maria and St. Rocco Church in Avondale were scheduled to return to Gibbs Farm for another pick.

On Saturday, the volunteers admitted they had no special farming skills. Carol Peterson said she had grown some ears in her personal garden, but had never ventured into a large field.

After the three-hour harvest, the corn was taken to the 36,000-square-foot warehouse in Exton, out of which it was scheduled to be distributed to various food cupboards throughout the county.

The food bank deals with a wide range of food services and vegetable species. Along with the corn in this summer season, they also gather a lot of farm stand produce like tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, cabbage, onions and other plants. Over the course of the year, 2,200 volunteers participate in the process.

Some of the food is processed and flash frozen for later distribution, while a large quantity is distributed fresh.

Last year, 800,000 pounds of the 2.5 million distributed was fresh, Welsch said.

The food bank does more than pick corn from the fields, however.

Sometimes, the agency takes full responsibility for the crop as is the case with Pete’s Produce in Westtown. Owner Pete Flynn has handed over a few acres for the Food Bank members to take complete responsibility for the crop, from seed to harvest.

Of Flynn and other farmers who participate, Welsch said, “He’s the greatest. (The farmers) are what we depend on. We couldn’t feed the (the clients) without them.”

In other cases, the food bank helps collect canned goods and gives food for free and low-cost meals.

Food cupboards and social service agencies with food distribution programs are located throughout the county. Most of them require proof of income and address, and some need appointments.

Go to chestercountyfoodbank.org for more information. For information on volunteering, call Anne Suniak at 610-873-6000.

Chris Barber can be reached at agsun@kennettpaper.com.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .