Day 57,58: Iowa: New friends in corn…

We rolled into an Iowa driveway around suppertime Wednesday to talk to a sweet old retired John Deere engineer named Dick Cade (our new Chicago friend, Willie Cade’s uncle), to get his take on the Ethanol situation. Afterward, Dick sent us straight from his house to the local Hy-Vee to stock up on some ears of Fenzel’s sweet corn for Mark’s new challenge: eating ONLY CORN for the entire time in Iowa.

Sadly, Hy-Vee didn’t have any Fenzel’s famous sweet corn but they did have some other fresh ears, AND we even got the manager’s permission to film Mark filling chicobags full and talking about why he would even consider such a feat. Ben and I were also challenged – my challenge was to eat no corn whatsoever (I got myself a load of fresh fruit) and Ben was to eat only things that contained some kind of corn derivative. When Ben and Mark started looking around the store for Ben’s corny foods, and I foresaw the trash challenge failing under the strain of the packaging his food would come in, I left them and went to sit in the car.
We headed on to Waterloo to find Tahirah and Travis Elliott. Strangers to us but friends of Ben’s sis, Bronwyn, the Elliotts were waiting for us when we arrived after dark to their quiet lovely neighborhood. They welcomed us in, and while Mark’s corn cooked on the stove, we sat up talking, until my eyes started to close and I excused myself to bed.

When I came down in the morning, Tahirah was already making waffles! When neither she nor I could say whether or not Canola oil was made from corn, we went to the grocery for butter. (We should have just googled it, which we did later – Canola is its own plant. Who knew.) I thought the waffle was delicious. Ironically, after Ben got up to join us, we checked the ingredient list of the strawberry yogurt used in the waffles and found Modified Food Starch as the 3rd ingredient (CORN) and I totally ate them! Foiled! Here is the corn-allergen website where we learned some of the surprising places corn will turn up, and here is another page listing corn derivatives. I pity anyone with a corn allergy… Ben, meanwhile, seems to be eating everything except fresh produce.

Most of our focus was contacting people to set up possible interviews. We hoped to talk to farmers and Ethanol producers, but we can only make so many phone calls and emails and then we just wait. So, when Travis offered Ben a chance to go to the local ballfield and throw some balls around, Ben was more than willing to put on his sneakers and join him. I came along and sat on the grass journaling, feeling grateful for the gift of breathing “clean” air, and for a little time to sit and read, write, listen to the coach across the field bark encouragements to his little team of gradeschool footballers, in a beautiful breezy ballfield watching my husband throws balls around with a new friend. We even found all 31 baseballs before we went home.

Before we left Waterloo, we finally got to interview Tahirah about the challenges of being a city planner in Iowa. Currently, she is “in a battle with the City of Hudson to appreciate its heritage of having some of the best farmland in the WORLD which they don’t care about and are trying to develop into one acre lots.” She says that a lot of people are mad at her right now but that doesn’t stop her trying to help conserve at least some of the Century Farms in Iowa. Good work, Tahirah! America thanks you (whether they know it or not)…

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