Growing and Selling Miniature Popcorn

A young entrepreneur shares how miniature popcorn can be tasty and decorative.

| May/June 1984

Miniature Popcorn Plants

Shelly Hoff with her corn crop.


How can just three cobs of corn lead to an ongoing adventure? Well, in my case, it happened through lots of work, determination and an interest in gardening. Of course, starting young helped, too.

I'm Shelly Hoff, and I'm 15 years old. I once read that horticulture specialist Dr. Charles Dunham said, "No child is too young to experience the pleasure of gardening." Well, I guess he was right, because I started when I was two years old by dropping seed potatoes in hills!

My gardening experience grew as I grew. By the time I was seven and a Discovery member in my area 4-H club, I had two of my own six-foot-long rows of crops. And these days I have a 50' X 100' garden. Furthermore, four rows of my plot are now filled with a very special-looking plant called Miniature Pencil popcorn. Its full-grown cobs are a mere 2" to 4" long and have yellow, burgundy, rust, black or wine-colored kernels. The attractive ears yield tasty popcorn that comes out white, fluffy and almost hull-less. I've sold a lot of the pretty cobs in various ways, from small packets of seed to bunches of the ornamental ears.

My career with miniature popcorn began eight years ago when a kind lady at a local craft fair gave me three cobs of this ornamental corn. The next spring, when I was eight, I planted the little kernels right next to some field corn. That was a mistake: Two kinds of corn can cross-pollinate and produce an impure mix. Luckily, that didn't ruin all of my little ears.

The year after that, I made another mistake. I planted my corn where I'd raised it the year before. (I know now that corn draws a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it should never be grown in the same place for two years running.) Fortunately, the people in my local 4-H club showed me how to correct this mistake and to raise corn properly.

Miniature Popcorn Profits

The third year, I planted too much miniature popcorn for my family's use, but that didn't turn out to be a mistake. I sold most of the leftover ears as decorations to a nearby florist shop for $50! I also made door arrangements out of some of the cobs and gave one to each of the 16 residents at the retirement apartment building my grandparents live in. All those people enjoyed my gifts. In fact, many of them still display the arrangements.

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