St. Marys Journal Argus
For a while, after Frank and Elsie McKay closed their business and before Gerry Brickman moved in and started selling perennials, it sometimes seemed a little less busy than usual on a late July or early August afternoon at the corner of Queen and Pelissier Streets in the west end of St. Marys.
“Now, with Gerry in business there now, it’s back to how it was: You can get your corn, your eggs, and your flowers all in one stop,” smiled Brett Graham, the next generation operator of Graham’s Sweet Corn and egg farm, along with his wife Jess and their son Benjamin.
The Graham family should know how busy things have been on the corner over the decades. Various of the properties surrounding the intersection were part of the original Graham farm, purchased by Brett’s grandfather, Tom Graham, back in 1963. For a few years, starting back in 1964 (50 years ago this year), those properties were home to plots of sweet corn, which the family grew and sold from a roadside stand that started — in the words of Brett’s dad, Scott — as “a little table and chair with a little umbrella” on the property now occupied by farm supply outlet The Hitching Post.
Scott and his wife Laurie now live in the original farmhouse on the southwest corner of the intersection, beside which is located the sweet corn stand — now a sturdy tent, under which a brand new trailer (bought this year, to replace an aging snowmobile trailer) full of sumptuous sweet corn now sits. Brett grew up there, but he and his family now reside on Highway 7 near the Thames River, where the Graham family farm is now located and where between 8-10 acres of sweet corn is grown every year.
“We started with about two acres,” Scott says, as he glances towards the back of his Town of St. Marys property from his back deck. “We planted it all by hand with hand planters.”
Eventually, they bought a little two-row planter that was towed behind a tractor. But it soon became clear that a major problem with growing the corn in town was that there wasn’t enough land availability to adequately follow principals of crop rotation. As a result, insects and especially weeds easily adapted to turn into major pests.
“Foxtail . . . I remember us picking it all out by hand because it was so bad you knew it was going to affect the yield,” Scott says.
So the production was shifted to the Highway 7 farm, where the rest of the cropping is now handled by a neighbouring farmer through a sharecropping agreement, but the Grahams maintain control over 8-10 acres of sweet corn.
At one time they had between 20-25 acres, and they were wholesaling into grocery stores in London. But “it was just too much work for the return,” Scott says.
Tom Graham moved here from Morrisburg in eastern Ontario, and Scott says his dad remembered growing sweet corn as a kid and selling it at a roadside stand. So, after setting up his family in St. Marys, he decided it would be a good idea to start the same thing here.
“He was always great about making that link to the consumer, and marketing produce directly to the people,” Scott said of his late father. “He always thought it was good to go right from the farm to the table.”
“And our corn sales certainly don’t hurt our egg sales,” Brett added. When corn season starts in late July, Brett knows he better make sure to increase the daily inventory inside the year-round “Egg House” (which is, perhaps, an even greater Town of St. Mary icon than even the Graham’s Sweet Corn stand).