DEMOTTE/WHEATFIELD — People new to the area probably wonder why a line starts forming in the CVS parking lot around 9:30 every morning, seemingly for no reason, or why cars start pulling up to the corner of State Roads 10 and 49 each day, parking on a vacant corner. The answer to both, of course, is that it is DeVries Sweetcorn time and Darlene and Dave, respectively will be manning those locations with mounds of mouth-watering corn-on-the-cob in their iconic white pick-up trucks with the small umbrellas attached for respite from the heat.
Dave always arrives first at 10 and 49, usually pulling in around 9:30 a.m. He started in the sweetcorn business in 1985 or 1986, first working for his dad Milton.
“He’d plant and I’d harvest,” says Dave, who went on to work for Carpenter’s Local 1005 until retiring in 2012. “I met and married Darlene in just four months and we just kept selling sweetcorn.”
Dave is quick with a joke or two (or six) for his customers and works solo, taking money while also sorting and bagging corn. For $4, the customer leaves smiling with a “baker’s dozen” or 13 ears of corn.
Darlene pulls in to a waiting crowd at CVS around 10 a.m. each day and is greeted warmly by those waiting, many of whom have been customers for decades. Some days, she goes it alone, but on most days, she is assisted by grand-daughter Lily Wright or friend Dee Malavolta or both.
Darlene, usually barefoot no matter what the weather, chats amiably with all, especially focusing on the youngsters that arrive with their parents or grandparents. She’ll ask them about themselves and then hand them an ear of corn for their very own, in addition to whatever amount their parents buy. The kids leave, grinning ear to ear over their ear, looking as if they just won a goldfish at the county fair.
“Our customers are very loyal,” said Darlene. “I’ve been doing this for 33 years and I see familiar faces everyday.”
In fact, the DeVries are now starting to see the grandchildren of some of their original customers. On a recent morning, the crowd was there, despite disruptions of loud machinery and vehicles as the former Shopko is turned into a Tractor Supply store. Some of those grinding up the old parking lot even took a break to come over and greet Darlene and buy corn.
Darlene starting selling corn, asparagus and tomatoes to supplement their income and used to head to Valparaiso to do so before the DeMotte and Wheatfield area started to grow in population.
The couple plants 16 acres of corn each year, staggering the planting so that it doesn’t all come in at once. Dave heads out around 6 each morning to pick and bag the corn, placing five dozen in each large bag before loading up the two trucks.
Darlene, meanwhile puts up a post or two on their DeVries Sweetcorn FaceBook page to let their customers know when they’ll be there and what will be for sale that day. She’ll update their site as the corn sells out to let people know to try again another day. Most of the time, they’re out of corn in an hour and a half, but some days it goes even faster. On the first day of this season, Darlene posted that the corn was finally ready after the rain delayed planting for so long, the line stretched the width of the CVS parking lot by 10:05 a.m.
Daily, the DeVries have people pulling up with hope on their faces that there is still corn to be sold. Those that arrive too late are still greeted with a smile and reminded that the couple will each be back in their locations the next day. They usually smile back and say that they knew they should’ve gotten there sooner and most return the next day, where they again are greeted with a smile and maybe a joke or two.