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Serving: MO

Tiny tycoons dominate sweet corn sales in small town

Sisters in Hawk Point, Mo., started raising and selling sweet corn three years ago.

It took just a little over one hour to sell 30 dozen sweet corn ears. The Claborn sisters opened their Sweet Corn & Sweet Tea tent just after 7:30 a.m. and already customers were lining up.

“The first person wanted 10 dozen,” McKenna Claborn says. “We didn’t even have all of our tables up, but we started bagging it up.”

McKenna, along with her younger sister, Shay, started raising and selling sweet corn three years ago. At that time, Shay was only 6, and McKenna was 9.

The girls spent summers helping their cousin Adam Leek freeze sweet corn from his patch. But that year, there were extra ears he was going to throw away. The girls saw an opportunity.

“We asked him if we could try to sell them,” McKenna says. They set up a roadside stand at the end of their driveway. “We sold out in 30 minutes,” she adds. A business was born.

The following year, the duo became involved with planting and caring for the sweet corn patch, and then expanded. “We have three patches,” Shay explains. “Two in Hawk Point and one in Silex.”

They plant a bicolor sweet corn variety. This year, like many farmers in the area, the girls had a late start to the season. It was simply too wet. They raced to get the crop in. Once established, it was time to protect their bounty.

McKenna and Shay place temporary perimeter fence around the patches. “It is to keep the raccoons out,” Shay says. “We also trap them.” Last year at one patch, they captured 10 raccoons. Raccoons steal the ears, McKenna explains. “We need to save as many ears as possible to sell,” she adds.

Family affair

The girls have sweet corn patches on farms that have been in the family or extended family for generations. They travel to their great-great-aunt Betty Faye Shaw’s farm, and to their mom’s uncle Bill Schlote’s farm.

When it comes times to harvest, family helps. Kevin Leek sits atop the Kubota tractor with a bucket. He follows the girls through the field as they pick ears. Kevin and his wife, Theresa, have become surrogate grandparents. “We couldn’t do it without them,” McKenna says.

She was just a toddler when her grandmother, Betty Shaw, passed away. But both girls remember their grandfather, Clayton Shaw. He was their first customer and around to see the business kick off before passing away last year. Now the Leeks step in and offer support for the girls’ endeavors.

The sisters are not afraid of hard work. “It is a lot of responsibility,” McKenna says. While other kids may be hanging out with their friends, the girls are checking fields and picking corn. They make sure to sell the freshest product by picking ears the night before or sometimes the morning of a roadside sale.

But the sweet corn business is not without perks.

Friends gather

At the four-way stop in Hawk Point, Mo., cars fill the parking lot as people start to congregate around the white tent. “The best part is talking to our customers,” Shay says.

Individuals often stop for the sweet corn and sweet tea but linger for the conversation. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” she adds. “It is fun to talk to them.”

The girls fill plastic bags and sometimes feed bags with sweet corn out of the back end of a trailer. They market down each sale in a notebook. They charge $4 for a dozen.

“We use the money for our 4-H projects,” McKenna says. “We buy our show pigs for the county fair and feed,” Shay adds.

By 3:30 p.m., the Claborn sisters sold 165 dozen at the Highway 47 intersection. At day’s end with Facebook sales included, they topped 210 dozen.

The budding ag entrepreneurs are not sure where their business will take them. All they know is that there is a market for sweet corn and sweet tea in their small town.

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