Sweet Corn Charlie has become a household name in Elkhart Co.
Posted: 08/25/2013 at 6:00 am
By: Justin Leighty
Click here to view in a gallery.
Produce sits on shelves at Sweet Corn Charlie’s outside Millersburg on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Mohler family has been named Farm Family of the Year. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia)
Verna Ichelberler of LaGrange purchases produce from Marla Zumfelde of Goshen at Sweet Corn Charlie’s east of Millersburg on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. “I come here every week,” Ichelberler says. “The produce is fresh, better and keeps longer.” The Mohler family, owners of the farm, have been named Farm Family of the Year. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia)
Dan (from left), Sammy, Katrina, Chuck and Tami Mohler pose for a portrait in one of the corn fields at Sweet Corn Charlie’s east of Millersburg. The family, who own and operate the farm, were named Farm Family of the Year. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia)
“A lady called from Greencroft, said, ‘I’ve been growing sweet corn and there’s just, no, you can’t have sweet corn now. This can’t be your own sweet corn,’” Chuck said. “I said, ‘Lady, come out tomorrow morning, Saturday morning,’ I gave her the address and said, ‘You be there and you can help us pick sweet corn, because we are picking.’”
Tami said, “We did have a guy come out one time just to make sure.”
In the last quarter-century though, Sweet Corn Charlie has become a household name, and nobody doubts the honesty of the Mohler family, who have been named 2013 “Farm Family of the Year” by the Elkhart County Agricultural Society.
The Mohlers operate a network of roadside farm markets across the area, growing their own corn and vegetables using techniques Chuck and Tami picked up in Israel.
Chuck Mohler grew up on a dairy farm, and went to Israel in 1982. While he didn’t go with agriculture on the mind, he picked up on Israeli methods of growing, including a “mentality of ‘There’s no such thing as I can’t,’” he said.
When he and Tami married in 1983, they backpacked across Europe and wound up in Israel for a few months, learning more about using ground plastic, trickle irrigation, and high tunnels and low tunnels.
They’ve been back several times since founding Sweet Corn Charlie’s in 1986. They learned watermelon grafting and transplanting sweet corn.
Several years ago, a group from Ohio State University toured this area and stopped at the Mohler farm east of Millersburg. “They wanted to see my grafted watermelon,” Chuck said.
“We talked about Israeli technology, and I mentioned that I learned to transplant sweet corn from the Israelis because they had done it. The people that we talked to in the vegetable business, I was the first one in the United States to transplant sweet corn, which we still do today, about 10 acres of it, our very first.
“When I told them that I did this, they said well, they tried it, they were unsuccessful because they couldn’t get the ear size that they needed, so they deemed it undoable. This is Ohio State University. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got some right over here that’s growing, that’s just about ready to harvest, would you like to take a look at it?’ Of course they said, ‘Sure.’
“We walked over a few feet and looked at this transplanted sweet corn that I had, and the ears were just as big as anything they have ever grown, and I had a captive audience. They took me to lunch and we talked. They cancelled the rest of the tour that they were going to do and we just sat and talked about the things I knew, and then they invited me to come to Ohio State vegetable grower’s conference and talk to their growers,” he said.
He credits their success as a family to two things: He has a family that put family as a top priority, and “the Most High gave me a good wife who came also from a family where that was a priority,” Chuck said.
Their sons, Sammy and Dan, and Sammy’s wife, Katrina, are all part of the business. Sammy and Dan were both 10-year 4-H members, Sammy’s a Benton 4-H assistant leader and Dan’s a delegate to the national 4-H congress.
Giving their children the farm life was important to Chuck and Tami. “Farm life is something special,” Chuck said. “Growing up with living plants and animals and depending on the weather to make your living, it builds character. It also brings opportunities for development,” he said.
It’s their love for farm life that has them help other farm markets.
“We believe very strongly in the farm market. We help the small businesspeople have their own business,” he said.
“They’re all farmers. I count it a privilege. We all count it important to raise our families on a farm.”
They also sell to small stores, but it’s getting tougher. “With all the competition of the big box stores getting into the grocery business, it’s making it harder and harder for farm markets to survive. The big box store takes our No. 1 item and uses it as a loss leader,” Chuck said.
Despite the unpredictable environment, the Mohlers press on.
The honor of being named Farm Family of the Year is something Tami said is humbling. “There’s a lot of fine farm families in Elkhart County,” she said.
Chuck said, “The Ag Society, the fact that it functions, is a good thing. Soil and water conservation, there’s just some good organizations like that still left. To be a part of them, recognized by them, that’s nice.
“In a world where there’s so much going downhill, we still have a few good things that are going straightforward. They’re good to belong to and they’re doing good things. That’s what I count as a privilege.”
They’ll be honored at the Ag Society banquet Tuesday evening, Aug. 27.