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It’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of biting into butter-slathered corn on the cob on a hot summer day. In Colorado, the juicy kernels taste even better when you’re devouring Olathe Sweet corn, a variety named after the Western Slope city where it’s rooted (though the vegetable is planted at farms in surrounding communities as well). Olathe sweet corn season began mid-July and will continue through September, or until the first freeze occurs. We spoke with Reid Fishering, owner of Mountain Quality Farms in Montrose (about 12 miles from Olathe) to find out what makes the ears so beloved in Colorado and nationwide.
What Makes Olathe Sweet Corn So Delicious?
Olathe sweet corn is known for its extra-sugary flavor, delicate texture, and succulent bite, Fishering says. He attributes this to several key growing conditions, including the high elevation, positioning in the Uncompahgre Valley, and unadulterated mountain spring water used for irrigation.
Due to the elevation, the region experiences warm summer days and cool, crisp evenings. “We have the type of corn that is able to see 40 to 50 degree swings in the day,” Fishering says. “That’s what creates those sugars inside the ear. If you don’t have the same fluctuations in temperature, it’s really tough to get the same amount of sugars that you get here.”
He also likes to tell consumers that all corn that humans consume fresh is sweet corn, as opposed to field corn (which is commonly used for animal feed and manufactured goods like ethanol and corn starch). Sweet corn, as the name implies, contains more natural sugars and less starch than field corn, which makes it possible for people to eat and digest. But all varieties are not created equal, and the temperature fluctuations and seed specifically suited to the Olathe region’s growing conditions cause an even higher natural sugar content than ones produced in other areas.
That high sugar content also impacts the texture of the kernels. “There is something to be said about how delicate our corn is when you bite into it,” Fishering says.
When freshly picked from the field, sweet corn is high in sugar and low in starch. Once harvested, the sugar converts to starch if the corn is left out too long in the heat. For this reason, Mountain Quality Farms’ crew hand-harvests its corn as early in the day as possible, usually around 5 a.m., before temperatures rise. The corn is then quickly cooled down via ice or hydro-cooling within 20 minutes of harvest and shipped to stores in refrigerated trucks to maintain its signature sweetness and tender bite.
Meet the Grower
Mountain Quality Farms is one of about 15 family farms that grows Olathe sweet corn in the valley between Montrose, Olathe, and Delta. Fishering is a second-generation grower and took over the family business in 2016, where he currently runs day-to-day operations. The farm comprises 100 acres, which are used to grow corn, onions, and asparagus. According to Fishering, the amount of sweet corn harvested can vary significantly from year to year depending on the weather and consumer demand. He estimates the farm harvests anywhere from 15 to 45 million ears annually.
Fishering’s favorite way to eat Olathe sweet corn is boiled or fresh off the grill. He notes that the key to preserve the sugary goodness within the kernels is by not overcooking the cobs. “The important thing is when you boil it, you only really do it for about a minute. All you’re trying to do is really just warm the kernels enough so that you can melt butter on it,” he says. “Or when you put it on the grill, you’re lightly toasting it—not cooking it or trying to make popcorn.”
Where to Buy Olathe Sweet Corn
Mountain Quality Farms ships its corn from coast to coast, and the crop can be found anywhere from Alaska to Virginia. You can spot Olathe sweet corn sporting the Colorado Proud Logo at grocery stores around the Denver-metro area, including at King Soopers, Safeway, and Whole Foods. For a true sweet corn experience, you can even try an ear roasted fresh from the field at the annual Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, which will be held this Saturday, August 6, in downtown Olathe.