Next time you have the urge to take your kids on a farm outing, bypass the traditional agri-tourism option of feeding a few chickens and picking a pumpkin out of the patch and try something different with a tour of the popcorn farm.
My friend Eva and I spent an afternoon at Shallowford Farms in Yadkinville. The day trip was a great opportunity for the kids to see where popcorn really comes from and how it gets to the popped state, as well as being an instructional experience on the hard- working, creative and industrious people that run the farms and small businesses in our state and keep our economy percolating.
Caswell and Amanda Booe, the husband and wife team that runs Shallowford Farms, are making their living off the land that’s been in Caswell’s family for generations. After graduating from N.C. State University, Caswell decided to return home and try his hand at making a living on the family farm. He began planting corn in 1987 on what used to be a dairy farm, and when the opportunity arose in 1990 to purchase the equipment for harvesting and drying popcorn, he built a plant and started building his business. Today, Shallowford Farms is the only popcorn producer on the East Coast, with the corn being sold under its own name and being packaged and sold by other companies in the United States and abroad. The Booes have grown the business from a farm that grew a little corn to a processing plant that harvests and bags thousands of pounds of unpopped popcorn a year, and also pops and flavors corn to sell in gift bags and cans.
The Origin of Popcorn
Our tour started in the gift shop. After wandering around looking at different colors of popcorn and deciding what they’d like to eat later, the kids gathered around Amanda for a short lesson. She showed them the difference between corn that’s grown for eating off the cob and corn that’s grown to be popped as popcorn. It probably never occurred to these 4- year-olds that the fluffy white snack was the same thing as the yellow kernels they’d eaten off the cob this summer.
Now that we’re paying more attention as a society to where our food comes from and how it’s been grown, it’s good to help our kids understand the process from seed to table.
The tour continued outside, where we saw the giant holding bins, and into the processing plant where the kids were able to see how the popcorn comes down the chute into the machine that sorts it, weighs it and cleans it.
Then the corn can go one of two ways. It’s either fed into bags where it’s weighed and sealed to be shipped, or it’s sent to the popping room where it’s heated, sprayed with oil and then dropped into a plastic bag.
Of course, it’s not just the conveyor belts and scales that keep this manufacturer going. The farming is just as important as the plant, a fact that was clearly obvious when we entered the massive warehouse that is home to Caswell’s collection of John Deere equipment. From combines to tractors, the kids were able to walk around and see up close the machines that plant and harvest corn from season to season.
With typical 4-year-old energy and attention spans, the kids were happy to run around the wide-open spaces of the farm and marvel at the size of the equipment. But for my friend Eva and me — and older kids who visit the farm—learning about the process is fascinating.
Shallowford Farms is a model for environmental consciousness, and the plant creates almost no waste. The popcorn that is sorted out and rejected for human consumption is sold to area farmers to be used as feed for cows, which also eventually lands on our table as “corn-fed” beef.
Don’t Leave Empty Handed
One of the perks of the tour is the free bag of popcorn each child gets, but that taste is just enough to leave you wanting more.
A few years ago Amanda expanded the business to include the gift shop. The shelves are stocked with popped and unpopped corn in a variety of flavors, including the butter and movie corn Shallowford makes, as well as gourmet flavors such as chocolate, cotton candy, green apple and cherry.
There are also decorative tins that can be filled to order, and they’ll make gift baskets filled with fresh popcorn and small gifts. It’s a great place to do a little early Christmas shopping.
If You Go
Shallowford Popcorn Farms
3732 Hartman Road
Yadkinville, NC 27055
Store hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday
Call ahead before visiting. They prefer to conduct tours for groups of 10 or more, and there will be no tours conducted during the month of December when the store gets busy with holiday traffic.