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My Generation
Indian corn upclose
VARIETY: Shucking Indian corn became a family affair — and an adventure as we pulled back the husks to see what that ear would look like.

Can Indian corn shape identity?

We’ve learned some big lessons this fall as our 13-year-old grew and sold Indian corn — and not just about plant breeding and insecticide.

Earlier this fall, my son, Nathan, and I huddled in our coats under a pop-up tent, rain falling around us, trying to sell Nathan’s Indian Corn. It was a local scenic-drive festival and the weather was terrible, so the patrons were few and far between.

“So, bud, is this what you thought it’d be?” I asked him.


“What’d you think it would be?”

He didn’t miss a beat: “Sunny. People comin’ in. Me makin’ money.”

It wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Nathan, 13, planted about a quarter acre of Indian corn this year next to the sweet corn patch, to augment his pumpkin business. If, like me, you think that a quarter acre of Indian corn doesn’t sound like much, then you, like me, would be wrong. Turns out, 2018 was a bad year for pumpkins but a really great year for Indian corn. So great, in fact, that Nathan had to recruit a couple of young friends to help him pick it all. Three generations of Spanglers spent hours shucking, sorting, bundling. Half the barn was full of hayracks and plywood, with corn all spread out.

He sold to friends and family, and the local nursery. He sold at a local festival. He bundled and sorted corn before school and after school, between football practices and games. He worked in the rain. He made deals and learned that quality counts. He made special deliveries to his favorite people. And in the end, he sold nearly all of it, and met his sales goal.

WINNER: Nathan’s Indian Corn saw its share of highs and lows this fall. Big high: winning grand champion vegetable at the local fair. Big low: (not really) selling in the rain.

I’ve thought a lot lately about how the world wants to assign our children an identity: athlete, nerd, theater kid, band geek, Jesus girl, steer jock, FFA star. It’s endless. But it’s limiting. I am not what the world thought I was in junior high. Nor are my kids. But how to help them see that?

Deep down, knowing what they’re capable of is life-changing. And it changes how they perceive themselves. So does knowing what else is out there in the world: what suffering looks like, what hardship really is (i.e., it’s not doing chores on a snow day, even though that really feels like it), what responsibility looks and feels like. What success and failure, in equal parts, feel like.

For sure, Nathan’s identity doesn’t lie in Indian corn any more than mine lies in these stories I write. Our identities are rooted in God’s grace in our lives, and augmented by every shred of responsibility that comes along and reveals who we truly are.

And if Indian corn can help? Well, let’s plant it again next year then.

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