I have a new title, Michigan’s Senior Women’s Corn Husking Winner! Now, that statement probably got your attention. It certainly piqued mine when I noted Clay Geyer’s article in the August/September issue of Farm & Ranch Living about the Indiana State Corn Husking Contest that was held in Bremen, Indiana on October 1st. Clay is the president of the organization, and basically works all year to promote this one day event.
I never knew there was such a contest, but the mention of it certainly brought back sweet memories of when my family would husk out the corners of the fields and a couple of rows of corn around the perimeter of the fields so that Dad could get his picker in without knocking down corn. It was a lot of work, usually from dawn till dusk for two or three days. Still, it was fun, and since I had so much practice as a kid, I thought I would give it a try this year.
Mark my word, these contestants take the competition seriously. Clay explained the rules: "Each contestant signs up in the category that suits them (young men’s, senior women, youth, golden agers, etc.). You husk corn down one row as fast as you can and throw the husked ears in a horse-drawn wagon that is pulled right alongside where you husk. A person called a 'gleaner' walks behind to collect any ears that you miss, and another person has a stopwatch to mark 20 minutes. Any husk that is left on the ears is later weighed and deducted from the total number of pounds that you husk. Any missed ears are also deducted."
Wow! I never knew there would be so much to husking corn! I got there early in the morning for the start of the contest, but noticed that not too many people were anxious to start husking. So, I started talking to some of the seasoned huskers and learned a few inside tricks to this game. Beth Lamb was taking photos of the day’s events for Clay. She clued me in. "You can register all day, and you generally husk in the order that you register. Most people wait until later in the day because the corn is dryer and husks easier."
The field was cut into lands, and each land was numbered. I noted various competitors walking up and down these strips and scoping them out. Clay noticed my curious look and explained, "They are checking to see which land they want to husk in. On some rows, the ears of corn are pretty uniform and are located about the same place on the stalk, and on others there may be an ear closer to the bottom of the stalk and on the next stalk the ear may be in the middle. When they are all about the same height, it takes less time to locate the next ear and makes it go faster."
Some of the guys were using corn husking pegs, which are steel hooks that you wear on your hand to rip open the husk. Clay warned, “They do help, but can also be dangerous. We have had people in previous years rip their hands open with one.”
Everyone has their own style, too. Some will rip and pull and try to get as many ears as possible without worrying too much about getting all the husk off. Others are meticulous and get every little piece of it off. It’s all a matter of personal style.
There had been a lot of rain in the area, and the field was muddy. While contestants waited for the corn to dry, there was no shortage of tales from previous years floating around. Ralph Costello from Plymouth, Indiana told of his younger days when he and his brother went out hunting rabbits. "I didn’t see a one to shoot at, but my brother came back with three even though I didn’t hear any shots." His brother told him he had thrown ears of corn at the cottontails and got his rabbits that way.
Finally, I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and try my hand at it. I had been told that husking a net weight of 280 to 300 pounds was considered good. That sure sounded like a huge amount of corn to me, and I was seriously hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. So I needed strategy. I decided I would do it just like when I was a kid: start down the row, and while husking one ear I would spot the ear on the next stalk and keep focused.
I remember hearing someone comment while I was husking that I was getting all the husk off. Without missing a beat I shouted back, “Have to, my dad wouldn’t have it any other way!”
When it was all said and done, my net weight was 150.3 pounds. Not too shabby for not being in the fields for over 30 years. I actually came in second in Indiana with another Hoosier gal edging me out with 152 pounds, but since I was from Michigan, I had to be judged in that state. Since Michigan doesn’t have a competition, my winning was pretty cut and dry.
Many small festivals have corn husking contests, and those winners proceed to the state level. Each state may send the top three winners in each of the 12 categories to the national contest. This year the Nationals were held in Goodhue, Minnesota. Last year's participants came from as far as Georgia and Arkansas to compete in the Indiana contest.
Throughout the day, auctioneer Darrell Hartman did live videos and live broadcasts on the scene. Various newspapers, radio stations, and magazines were present. It has become a bigger deal today from when it all started. Corn husking is the oldest method of harvesting corn, and the contests started in 1924 in Polk County, Iowa by Henry Wallace, where 800 spectators watched the first event. Darrell made mention that part of what makes this event so special is that you see families out here. "Kids, grandparents, and moms and dads all participate. It also preserves our past and gives younger generations glimpses of how things were done before the age of computers."
Someone asked if husking and shucking were the same thing. Now, here is where you get varied opinions. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a shuck is the pod and the husk is the dryer, outer covering of seeds or corn. But when it comes down to it, it depends on who you talk to and what part of the country they are from!
Clay has been with the organization for 10 years and admits it takes a lot of work to put these contests together, but it is also very fulfilling. He and his family still pick ear corn in an age when most farmers shell corn. He laughs. "Dad mentioned the other day that the corn was ready, and I told him I was ready, I had the huskers coming!"
I will definitely go back next year and try to better my record. The contest for this year is all wrapped up and in the bag, literally. Aw, shucks!