Dan McCullough hasn’t always been a farmer, but he’s glad he is.
He spent a big part of his formative years on his grandparents’ livestock farm where he was driving tractors and helping out by the age of eight. When he reached college age however, he studied to be a diesel mechanic and went to work in a Chicago steel mill after graduation. This didn’t last long.
“I was always raised hunting, fishing out in the country and there just was not any of that to do up there,” McCullough said. After a year of city life he came back home to southern Indiana and worked until 2006 at a farm machinery dealership. He didn’t get back to working the land until 1988 when he started his produce farm.
It started small, as McCullough had to buy land gradually, and though he is known (renowned may in fact be more accurate) for his sweet corn, this was not his focus to start. When he began selling his produce 26 years ago he had just 2 acres of corn planted and as time went on and his schedule became more busy, this number started to grow. Until he retired in 2006, McCullough had two full time jobs. He had his day job at the farm machine dealership and his second post as a farmer, and keeping these kinds of hours greatly influenced what he decided to grow.
“Watermelons and cantaloupe and tomatoes are something you have to work in market every day and we just didn’t have time,” he said. “Each year I dropped some of that and started planting more sweet corn.”
McCullough said his farm operation is as big as he wants it to be, in fact he is at capacity. To grow any more would mean more machinery, more workers, more money, and more work.
“I don’t want to go any bigger than what we are,” McCullough said.
As it stands, his farm is still a hands-on operation. McCullough himself picks the majority of the corn. When the season is in full-tilt, McCullough and his crew, which consists of his wife Kaye, often his grandson Brandon McCullough, and other hired help, work long hours. They start in the early morning hours and work, often through meals, until the job is done. McCullough said once he starts working he can’t stop.
“I don’t stop picking corn. When I stop, the whole operation stops so I just keep on picking,” he said. Though it is often their goal to finish by early afternoon, they have often ended when there is no longer enough light.
McCullough keeps his business small with a limited number of contracts, and with Bloomingfoods being the only grocery store. However, where he is most known is at the Farmers’ Market. When sweet corn season is at its peak, the lines to McCullough’s stand often snake through the market. Meeting and serving this many customers is satisfying for McCullough.
“I like doing this. I meet a lot of people,” he said.
As the years have gone on, though, McCullough said he often thinks about when he should step back from the farm but never comes up with a good answer.
“Every year we are ready to get out of it but it seems like the next spring, we are just right back into it again,” he said. “We just don’t know any better, I guess.”
Story and photo by Isaac Smith