Living Off the Land – Silver Rill Corn: Kernels, Cobs & Contented Customers

by Jo Barnes | photos by Sarah Hartley Photography – 

Mmmm … sweet corn-on-the-cob in the summertime. You can grill it, roast it or boil it. Just don’t try to pop it for movie night!

For over 60 years, corn has been grown at Silver Rill Corn farm in Central Saanich, and as owner Clayton Fox well knows, not all varieties of this delicious produce are the same by any means. “Sweet corn, our specialty here, is very different from popcorn. Popcorn kernels are hard throughout the process of growing, it has a long maturity, and after harvest it has a drying period,” shares Clayton. “You can’t pop the sweet corn.”

The star crop at Silver Rill is its sweet corn. It grows over 60 acres of premium quality non-GMO sweet corn, with over 20 different varieties of Peaches and Cream, Yellow, and White. Such an extensive growing area requires an equally substantial number of seeds to plant and eventual produce to harvest annually. “We buy and plant two million seeds per year. We have about 25,000 plants per acre,” notes Clayton. “At peak season, we sell 10,000 cobs in a day in our market.”

Sweet corn is planted to take advantage of different maturity dates for various varieties. “Every week to 14 days, corn is planted. Our first planting this year was March 15,” says Clayton. “Planting is done with a staggering effect. There is always a prime window for picking.”

A less important crop at the farm is popping corn, which has a different timeline and process. “After a long maturity, it is husked in late fall and put on drying racks indoors for a month or so with a dehumidifier in the room,” outlines Clayton. “The kernels are then removed from the cobs, and we test them to make sure they pop. Finally, they’re sealed into jars. It’s all done by hand.”

Like growing any type of produce, there are always challenges to deal with, like weather or invasive pests. “We are at the mercy of weather and need to be ready and able to adapt. We need to know each corn variety and to which type of environment or climate it is suited,” comments Clayton. “Often there are challenges like voles, which can dig under row cover and eat seed; or starlings, that nibble the tops of corn cobs.”

With dedication and persistence, however, Clayton enjoys the positive end results and the support from steady customers each year. “We’re up at 5 a.m. making sure the product is top quality. I really love the reward of watching crops grow successfully and the joy that comes from knowing we have customers who want to purchase the product.”

Corn is hand-picked fresh every morning by trained individuals. This is important because when an ear of sweet corn is picked, its sugars start to change into starches, causing the kernels to lose their sweetness and become tough. Customers repeatedly attest to the quality, using phrases including “best corn on the Island”, “consistently wonderful” and “second to none.”

Previously owned by Clayton’s parents, Ken and Wendy Fox, the farm is a well-known one in the Central Saanich community. Farming has been the way of life for generations in this family. “It all started when Sidney Fox came to Canada from Worcestershire England in 1926 and began dairy farming at their property on Hovey Road. His son Stanley first started growing corn,” says Clayton.

Clayton and his wife Rachelle fully took over the farm this year and look forward to continuing the hard work and commitment to quality produce. “It is a new era of the farm. I want to carry on the legacy and the work of my dad, my grandfather and my great grandfather. My wife is running the market, and we have three young kids,” says Clayton, adding with a smile: “My oldest son has already spent hundreds of hours riding on the tractor with me.”

The onsite market, located at 7117 Central Saanich Road, offers not only corn, but also a variety of vegetables and berries all grown at the farm. The market is open seven days a week starting in late May. The sweet corn season begins in early July and runs close to the end of October.

For decades, the farm’s focus has been producing top quality corn, and that objective remains strong. Clayton affirms that corn is a perennial favourite, a food with massive appeal. “Corn is a high demand product. People always want it for their events and large gatherings.”

Year after year, the corn stalks at Silver Rill have been reaching up to the sun. Generations of customers have been enjoying the taste and crunch of the corn cobs or savouring the flavours that magically pop from inside the kernels. The types of corn may be different, but the delicious experience is still the same.

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