Pop­corn Made Per­sonal

For four gen­er­a­tions (so far), two mid­west­ern fam­i­lies have grown a tra­di­tion around one of Amer­ica’s fa­vorite snacks.

Farm & Ranch Living - - NEWS - BY JILL ROHLENA GODSEY

Visit the Ne­braska farm where your next bowl of pop­corn was grown.

In the north­east­ern cor­ner of Ne­braska lies a corn­field of 142 acres. A lot more corn grows around it, but this one is spe­cial, be­cause for more than eight decades this par­tic­u­lar field has fu­eled count­less movie marathons, game nights—and tree gar­lands made of pop­corn.

Pat Green farms the field for Jolly Time Pop Corn, which is lo­cated in Iowa just across the Mis­souri River. And if Emily Climer, his 9-year-old grand­daugh­ter, has any say, the land—and the pop­corn con­tract— will be hers one day.

Pat says his grand­fa­ther signed the first con­tract with C.H. Smith at Jolly Time in the 1930s. He's not sure why his grand­fa­ther started grow­ing the tasty snack, but it was the be­gin­ning of a re­la­tion­ship that's spanned nearly 80 of the com­pany’s 104 years.

The third gen­er­a­tion of Greens is now grow­ing pop­corn for the fourth gen­er­a­tion of Smiths. Cloid H. Smith founded the Amer­i­can Pop Corn

Co., the maker of Jolly Time, in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1914. Smith grew the pop­corn on his farm and hand-shelled the ker­nels in his base­ment. The com­pany was then and con­tin­ues to be owned and op­er­ated by the fam­ily.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing a kid and the folks from Jolly Time would come to our house, sit at our ta­ble, and just shoot the breeze,” Pat says. He

For more than eight decades this field has fu­eled count­less movie marathons, game nights— and tree gar­lands made of pop­corn.

re­mem­bers those con­ver­sa­tions could be about any­thing, not just about the work. They would ask, “How are you do­ing? How are the kids?” It would start up and con­tinue on nat­u­rally, Pat says, as it would with fam­ily.

The Smiths still visit and hand­write the checks to their grow­ers— now more than 80 farm­ers across Iowa, Ne­braska and South Dakota.

Like his dad, Pat farms the land mostly on his own. From time to time he en­lists help from his wife. Daugh­ter Can­dace and her hus­band are in­volved in the fall har­vest. And grand­daugh­ter Emily also gets in on the fun and rides the com­bine with her grand­fa­ther. This past year was the first she was able to take the wheel her­self. She’s al­ready told him she wants to be the fifth gen­er­a­tion on these 142 acres to grow pop­corn.

“Emily thinks it’s ex­cit­ing,”

Pat says. And he is proud of that. “It means a lot to me that she has in­ter­est in what I’m do­ing.”

“Papa grows pop­corn for Jolly Time,” she de­lighted in telling her grade school class one Na­tional Pop­corn Day, which is ob­served on Jan. 19. Her class­mates may not have be­lieved her at the time, but they did the next day when “Papa” Pat came in to share his pop­corn with the class.

Pat keeps a pop­corn ma­chine in his of­fice in one of the farm’s sheds and of­fers up fresh, air-popped corn when folks drop by. He likes his with but­ter and a lit­tle salt, but Emily rec­om­mends the marsh­mal­low-fla­vored Mal­low Magic mi­crowave kind.

While the name on the mail­box and the des­ti­na­tion of the corn ker­nels haven’t changed, the way the Greens work has. The flat farmland now is lined with ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment; prior to the mid-’70s they re­lied on Mother Na­ture to wa­ter their fields. They have al­ways grown yel­low pop­corn (it pops up big­ger and fluffier than white), but not al­ways the same kind. In the be­gin­ning, pop­corn was mostly grown to feed movie pa­trons, so be­fore Pat took over, his fa­ther filled the fields with a pop­corn hy­brid de­signed for the­ater con­ces­sions. The com­pany pro­vides the seed to the Greens and its other

farm­ers, de­ter­min­ing the va­ri­ety they'll grow, and nowa­days Pat’s hy­brid is ge­net­i­cally en­hanced to pop bet­ter in the mi­crowave.

Ge­net­ics has also changed the yield per acre. While Pat’s dad grew 2,000 to 3,000 pounds per acre, Pat’s yield to­day can reach 7,000 pounds per acre.

Pat says he en­joys the free­dom of the work—get­ting up and do­ing his thing—but that’s not what he likes most. He es­pe­cially takes pride in know­ing he’s pro­vid­ing a ser­vice to peo­ple.

“We are grow­ing a crop for peo­ple to en­joy with their fam­i­lies,” Pat says. He likes that peo­ple across the United States are sit­ting on their couches, watch­ing TV or a movie and eat­ing what he has pro­duced.

He thinks his work plays a part in help­ing peo­ple get away from the stress of every­thing. “I’m proud I can grow it for them,” he says.

Pat’s fa­ther in­stilled his own love of the work in his son. Pat says his dad never bat­ted an eye when prices var­ied and pop­corn prices dipped com­pared to other corn prices. Some farm­ers switched to grow­ing field corn when that hap­pened, but not the Greens.

“My dad said no mat­ter what, we will al­ways grow corn for Jolly Time—doesn’t mat­ter the weather or the price,” Pat says.

Ev­ery year he’s worked the farm, Pat has man­aged to har­vest a crop, which he says takes pa­tience. There have been years in which weather has forced him to wait, but he’s never got­ten to a point where he can’t get the corn planted. The grow­ing process for a food prod­uct also takes pa­tience. Pat has ex­tra san­i­tiz­ing steps and uses dif­fer­ent chem­i­cals than other corn farm­ers, but he says the work should take time to get it right.

In ad­di­tion to these 142 acres of pop­corn, Pat rents and farms an­other 500 acres nearby, but he varies what he grows in those fields. He keeps the orig­i­nal farm in pop­corn—he’s sen­ti­men­tal that way. He knows his own fa­ther was proud when he re­tired and watched Pat take over the farm, and he says he’ll be just as proud when Emily, a lit­tle older, takes the driver’s seat on the com­bine full time.

Pat Green (above, right) is the third gen­er­a­tion on this Ne­braska pop­corn farm, and Can­dace and Emily Climer are the fourth and fifth gen­er­a­tions.

Pop­corn farm­ers pull the husks on a few ears to check the mois­ture level of the ker­nels, ide­ally about 13.5 per­cent mois­ture (right). Here, Pat Green climbs into the com­bine to start the har­vest.

Above, Emily Climer is learn­ing the se­crets of pop­corn farm­ing from grandpa Pat Green. Be­low, the two have some more farm fun at the end of a day in the fields.

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