Thinking Outside the Husk
Lessons learned abroad sparked Sweet Corn Charlie’s success
For many in Michiana, eating row after row of sweet, crisp, fresh corn on the cob from Sweet Corn Charlie roadside stands is an indispensable summer experience. From Syracuse to Granger, customers can get this local, non-GMO cookout staple as early as the end of June, thanks to growing methods learned in another country.
“We had our first high tunnel in 1989,” says Chuck Mohler, who operates Sweet Corn Charlie with his wife, Tami, out of the 80-acre family farm in Millersburg, IN. “People in this country had never heard of it, had never thought of an idea like that. Back then we were very unique.”
The Mohlers learned the technique—starting seedlings in a high tunnel, a type of greenhouse—from their time living in Israel in 1984, just a year after they were married.
“We wanted to live with a Jewish family, to experience it,” Chuck says one evening while on a break from working in the fields. “At that time they had what we called a volunteer movement where they place you with a family in a cooperative settlement. You lived with the family, you ate with the family, you worked with them.”
“I saw vegetables being grown in a way unique to the Israelis that wasn’t being done in the United States,” he says. “I was dairy farming with my father at the time, and I thought if I stayed farming, which I wanted to, then learning to grow vegetables the Israeli way would give me a niche that might make it an opportunity for success.”
Success came, but it wasn’t overnight. The Mohlers came home to Chuck’s father’s dairy farm, struggling to transform it into a vegetable farm.
“We tried to convert a farm that didn’t grow vegetables in an area that doesn’t grow vegetables into something that does grow vegetables. That took a lot of hard work,” Chuck says.
The Mohlers started playing with the techniques they had learned from their Israeli friends. They had to adapt some of the ideas to be successful in such a different climate, but once they found what worked, they were able to extend the growing season enough to start offering local sweet corn in time for Fourth of July celebrations.
Not only is the corn fresh, it’s also really good. The Mohlers are proud of the quality of their sweet corn, which Chuck confirms is non-GMO. Their attention to quality starts with the seed. “It’s the best seed you can buy,” Tami says. “The best germination, the sweetest seed.”
In addition to sweet corn, the Mohlers also grow watermelons, zucchini, beans, squash and a wide variety of other seasonal produce. They also sell raw, unfiltered honey from their son Sammy’s beehives on their property.
At any Sweet Corn Charlie stand, the Mohlers sell only produce that comes from a farm they trust. A motivating factor in their work is being able to offer the community healthy, fresh, local produce, grown either on their farm or by growers they’ve established relationships with.
“We grow our vegetables, but we buy our fruits out of Michigan. We have growers that we know,” Chuck says. “We know their names, we know their dog’s name, we go to their house and visit them. We know them, and they know what we want and what we’re looking for. We buy only in small amounts and go to Michigan every day or two.”
When they opened in 1986, Sweet Corn Charlie was a small roadside stand at the Indiana farm. In 1991, they opened a second stand in Syracuse due to popular demand. The next year they expanded to Goshen. Over the years, the Mohlers have expanded Sweet Corn Charlie to sell all over Michiana, spread over 10 locations. Because the locations can change from year to year, a list of current locations is available on their website, SweetCornCharlie.com.
Thirty years later, the Mohlers continue to live by lessons learned during their time in Israel. They’ve returned frequently, visiting old friends. “We learned a better way to eat and a better way to live,” Chuck says. “We like passing that on to the people we live with here.”
Sweet Corn Charlie
11003 CR 42