MONTAGUE — Two entrepreneurial farmers in eastern P.E.I. are getting things popping these days after harvesting the first mini-commercial crop of Island popcorn.
Things are puffing up these days in eastern P.E.I. where growers Barry Haneveld and John MacLeod are finding a niche market in popcorn. Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt
Yes, Island popcorn.
They may not rival Orville Redenbacher’s grasp on the snack food market, but Barry Haneveld and John MacLeod are just happy to have a crop. And so are their customers.
P.E.I. grown popcorn, the freshest available and considered a healthy snack, has been selling out at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market faster than they anticipated.
“This first year we lost everything to raccoons,’’ shrugs John MacLeod. “They cleaned us out totally in one night ... so we made a few improvements.”
MacLeod has been growing popcorn for fun for 10 years, but only for himself and a few friends. Over the years he’s always experimented with different crops from gourmet squash to golden beets and can always be found selling from his truck across from the Petro Canada in Brudenell.
But he teamed up with Haneveld three years ago and planted popping corn in an effort to see if they could find a niche market.
“We put up an electric fence and keep a radio running out in the corn patch and that ended the raccoon threat,’’ says Haneveld, well known for his Maple Farms apple orchard in Lower Montague. “And the popping corn pretty well grew with little trouble.”
The real work comes in the harvest after the cobs are air dried. That’s when they don’t thumb their noses at the work.
“We sit down at my place and watch a few movies and wear rubber gloves to we can just thumb rub the kernels right off the cob,’’ says MacLeod. “If things work out better this year, we’ll buy a shucker.”
They planted 500 plants with a yield of about 160 pounds of popping corn this year and sell it in plastic butter size tubs at farmer’s markets.
“We get all kinds of people saying ... ‘You can’t grow popcorn on P.E.I.’,” laughs Haneveld. “But once they try it, they always come back.”
The princes of popcorn say customers are coming back again and again with great reviews on the taste and freshness of their product.
“We’re finding a rush right now as people buy popcorn tubs as Christmas gifts.”