Eagle--On the backroads of Idaho sweet corn is ripe, and on the Combe family farm on Beacon Light Road north of Eagle they’re charging a bit more this year than last.
“Everyone else is charging $4 dollars a dozen, its time we did,” said 17 year old Jordan Combe, who handles marketing for the family operation.
“We’ve been stuck at three dollars a long time, its about time we changed, we were losing money I think. People don’t care, they don’t seem to notice the price change,” said Jordan.
The Combe corn operation is a labor of love that’s spanned 45 years and in the Southwest Idaho produce market, their corn is coveted by fresh food devotees.
“Jordan and I have been doing this since he was five years old,” said father Dean Combe. “He’s 17 right now and I have been doing this for 45 years. I started out with my oldest son and the next and soon we worked all down the line until Jordan, he’s been at it 12 years now.”
Dean and Jordan start planning for the season right after harvest each fall. The father-son team studies all the seed available on the market and can quote market prices going back decades and while price is important taste is their priority.
“We started out with golden jubilee when my older boys were in it, and the last six years, Jordan and I got interested in a seed called ‘incredible’. We looked at the new seed because my nephew told me about it, he said it does well told us it does well in sand, these fields are sandy and it grows good and people really love it because it lives up to its name because it’s incredible,” said Dean.
The 4-acre corn operation will produce 3-thousand dozens, according to Dean. And the corn operation has a unique life of its own. The modest family veggie stand off Highway 16 brings out fanatical foodies that drive from Payette and Boise for the sweet corn, and they’ve done it for decades.
“It works very well, we have more customers now than we have ever had and each year it keeps getting better. If you have tender corn people keep coming back,” added Dean.
Jordan Combe handles the marketing and has free rein to experiment. “We put the corn on Craig’s Llst and we’ve announced it at church, we have signs everywhere on the surrounding roads and most importantly friends tell friends,” said Jordan.
As the 2011 season got underway the decision to raise their prices 50-cents a dozen cast a dark cloud over the operation. With high input costs the Combe’s had to raise prices to operate in the black.
“One customer thought it was too much and he turned around on the first day we raised our price and brought it back, he said he thought it was too much. Jordan gladly gave his money back and he took off after that. It was a bit nerve wracking the first day but its been nothing but positive ever since,” said Dean.
Each year the Combes give back to the community, they supply the corn at the Western Idaho State Fair 4-H appreciation dinner for the exhibitors. They consider it an honor to be asked and their corn is the centerpiece of the annual feast.
“All the kids that participate in 4-H feast on our corn,” said Dean. “They love it and it’s good for them. We’ve been doing this since 2005. The kids are a big part of the fair so this is their celebration and we’re pleased to have our corn singled out for the annual event.”
Jordan Combe will graduate next year with real world marketing experience. He’s run a farm and thriving retail operation, while the Combe family corn is gaining a market niche and is thriving despite higher prices and tough economic climate.