Community Columns

Incredible corn can do it all, but at what cost?

As summer heats up each year in Modesto, all of us strive to keep our air conditioning units set at no lower than 78 degrees, open our windows at night, use mosquito repellent to ward off the dread West Nile virus and adhere to our city's watering conservation guidelines.

For me, the surest sign of summer is the coming of the Stanislaus County Fair.

No, it's not the joy of the spinning-twirly rides, the call of the carnival games, the interesting exhibits, the walk along food row, great free concerts or even the smell of the livestock area. It's the corn. Yes, the roasted corn.

There's nothing better than roasted corn, slathered in butter and seasoned with one of many choices of peppers and salts. Hot out of the fire, shucked and ready to eat! What better way to spend an evening than to view all the venues of the county fair with an ear of corn in your hand!

I can spend days extolling the joys of our nation's No. 1 veggie. Boiled, broiled or roasted, it's all good stuff. Friends have gone so far as to challenge me as to how many ears I can eat. I believe 13 is my current record.

Not only does our county fair bring thoughts of that sweet veggie, but so do the roadside signs that advertise great deals. But this year, I've noticed something has changed. What happened to getting eight or 10 ears for a dollar? I'm lucky to find two for a dollar.

Being a lover of corn, and wanting to know what's causing the change in prices and availability, I decided to do a bit of research.

While I considered corn only as something I look forward to eating, there are many other uses for this sweet veggie. Corn provides corn oil, sweeteners, feed for a host of farm animals, and alcohol. Increasingly, that alcohol is being seen as an alternative energy source.

Corn's high starch content can be converted into sugar, fermented, then distilled into an alcohol fuel known as ethanol. Combining ethanol with gasoline creates a cleaner-burning fuel. Nearly 30 percent of our gasoline has ethanol added to it. It's a way of "stretching" our gasoline resources. Sounds like a good thing to me, though many debates are continuing about the positive and negative effects of ethanol.

Farms are now growing corn to be turned into ethanol, and the increased need for this fuel-producing corn is resulting in higher prices for the sweet varieties.

So, the days of 10 ears for a buck have passed, and that's OK. My beloved county fair corn price will rise, and that's OK, too. Just don't tell me that corn will become such a wanted commodity for fuel that it disappears as a food; that's not OK.

Vidauri is a Modesto resident. Contact her at