Corn husks and monster trucks

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WARREN, Ohio – Harvey Lutz and his son, Junior, shake their heads and say they just don’t get it.
The telephone in their farm shop rings steadily every few minutes. An answering machine picks up all the calls, spits out some information, then the line goes dead.
It starts again.
Ring. Beep. Voice. Click.
And then again.
“It’s only sweet corn. You see [farm]stands selling it everywhere,” the older Lutz says. Even after 18 years of doing this, there’s still a hint of modest disbelief in his voice.
“But for whatever reason, they want ours. Bad.”
* * *
Most summer days, there’s a traffic jam in front of Lutz Family Farm on South Leavitt Road outside Warren.
Cars snake up and down the roadway, parked bumper to bumper, and spill into any open space drivers can find on the spacious farmstead.
They come from Warren, from Cortland and Howland, from the nearby General Motors plant on their lunch breaks.
They’re drawn to the pole-building-turned-market with the inflatable ear of corn next to it, the place with the towering green and yellow monster truck parked out front.
The Lutzes don’t have to advertise much to keep their fresh-picked sweet corn business at full throttle. Instead, customers who’ve gotten just one taste of their crop keep coming back for more.
* * *
The Lutzes call their operation a traditional farm. There are 1,800 acres of field corn, soybeans and wheat.
Harvey’s father, Regis, now 87, still lives on the main farm, the place where he started as a dairy farmer.
“I grew up doing things at each end of the cow, but not in the middle,” Harvey says. He didn’t milk the family’s 80 cows; he focused instead on growing their feed and spreading their manure.
When Harvey graduated high school in 1975, his interest was in the land and grain production. Two years later, the family sold the dairy herd. For them, it would be crops only.
Then, 18 years ago, they put out a couple acres of sweet corn. They could eat some, and passersby might buy some. They never expected it would explode into a sideline business.
“Every year the demand kept growing. We kept adding a little bit more each year,” Lutz says.
Today, they plant 40 acres. And every day they open the doors to the farm market, they sell out.
* * *
There’s nothing fancy about the Lutz farm market.
At the beginning of each season, the family – including Harvey’s wife, Dolly, and 14-year-old-daughter, Hanna – pushes two sliding doors on a pole building open and hangs a banner: ‘Lutz Farms sweet corn.’
Just inside the doors, a number of checkout tables are set up for customers to grab corn that’s already bagged, or they can head straight for the flatbed wagons and pick out the ears that look best to them.
Regardless of how it’s sold, one thing stays the same: You buy a dozen, you get 14 years, maybe 15 if one of them looks iffy.
“When they get extra ears, it’s like you gave them $10,” Harvey says.
Opening day this year, the family sold more than 2,000 dozen ears in less than four hours.
“They just gobbled it up,” Junior says. “It was amazing.”
But when it’s gone, it’s gone, and you’ll have to come tomorrow if you want more.
The family retreats to the corn patch only in the wee hours of the morning, when temperatures are at their lowest and keep corn quality at its peak.
“We don’t pick in the heat of the day. That’s the worst thing you can do for sweet corn,” Harvey says. “It doesn’t take long to lose its sugar if it gets hot.”
* * *
During the winter of 2006, Harvey and Junior tinkered in their farm shop with welding rods, an old city water truck, a military-issue transmission, scraps from broken-down tillage tools left to rust along a farm fenceline, and some junkyard tires.
When they emerged in April, they had Big John, a sky-high monster truck that also serves as a billboard for the farm.
Both Lutzes admit the promotional aspect of the machine was an afterthought.
“A lot of advertisements you can read and they go right through [your mind] and don’t penetrate,” Harvey says. “This is our billboard on wheels. And people remember it.”
Junior, 20, gets around in the machine. He bajas through the deep mud pits at Fireball Truck Night in nearby Brookfield, throwing mud and challenging himself to make it to the end of the pit, he says.
“It’s all about having a good time, and the challenge of it,” Junior says.
To make sure spectators there also have a good time, the Lutzes are taking their involvement one step higher.
For an upcoming truck night, they’re donating hundreds of dozen ears of corn – at least two truckloads, the farmers estimate – for a free corn roast at the mud bogs.
A little generosity, they say, goes a long way.
“If you’re liberal, sponsor events, get out there, it comes back to you more.”
* * *
The Lutzes eat sweet corn every day it’s in season.
How better to judge the quality of the product you’re selling, they say. Plus, eating sweet corn is a true sign of summertime, what they look forward to all year long.
“August is a very long month around here. You’re excited to see it coming in, but you know the work behind it, too. It’s a real love-hate relationship,” Harvey admits.
“Every day is a blur. A good blur.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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