“No doubt about it: corn is No. 1 in Brentwood,” said Gene Mangini, deputy agriculture commissioner for Contra Costa County. “Corn is East County’s biggest vegetable crop in terms of dollars, and is a crop that has held very steady over the years.”
Boasting a whopping 4,000 acres of fields and grossing $15-$20 million a year, Brentwood corn is sold locally and throughout the northwest. Over the years, the crop has earned a lasting reputation for its quality and freshness.
Brentwood’s first modern-day cornfields were planted in the 1940s by Emilio Ghiggeri and his family. In the 1980s, Ghiggeri Farms formed a partnership with Glenn Stonebarger, and today Ghiggeri & Stonebarger (G&S) produce white, yellow and bi-color corn on 700 acres off Sellers Avenue.
So what makes Brentwood’s corn so wonderful? Everything, said Stonebarger.
“Well, the climate out here is perfect for growing corn,” he said. “Warm summer days and cool nights with the Delta breezes. We (Brentwood) have been pioneers in keeping up with the newest seeds available and the product we have now, the Diamond variety, is very tender, high in sugars and has a long shelf life.”
Growing season for corn is from February through early fall. This year, however, the late rains and cool temperatures have put the crops a few weeks behind schedule. But not to worry, said Anthony Massoni of Massoni and Simoni Farms: plenty of product will be available for this weekend’s CornFest festivities.
“We will be fine for the weekend,” said Massoni, whose family has grown corn in Brentwood since 1969. “There will be lots of corn for the CornFest. We will be donating over 100 boxes of corn, as we do every year.” Local farms including Ron Nunn, G&S and Dwelley also donate boxes of corn to the town’s annual festivities.
“There’s no shortage of corn,” added Massoni.
And there’s no shortage of corn trivia, either. For example:
• Corn has more than 3,500 uses, including as an ingredient in ethanol, chewing gum, fireworks, potato chips, soap, paint, antibiotics and peanut butter.
• Corn isn’t merely Brentwood’s top crop; it’s America’s No. 1 field crop.
• If every ear of corn in the United States were laid end to end, the string would reach from Earth to Mars.
• Corn grows on every continent except Antarctica.
• One bushel of corn boasts 72,800 kernels and weighs 56 pounds.
• Corn is America’s No. 1 animal feed grain. In recent years, corn production has ballooned to more than 10 billion bushels.
• Speaking of a long shelf life: archeologists have popped 1,000-year-old kernels. But for fresh-on-the-cob flavor, it’s recommended that corn be eaten within a few days after harvesting.
• One bushel of corn can provide enough sweetener for 325 cans of soda, oil for two pounds of margarine and enough starch to produce a ton of paper.