Season 4, Episode 08

Simple As Corn, Part 1

Return to Episode: Simple As Corn, Part 1

Donna sanders headshot and byline.

Picture this: A young boy, barely more than a toddler, pedaling his bike chasing tractors in a cornfield. Really! Why would a four-year-old be chasing tractors? The answer may surprise you. Fascination, a total fascination with tractors and growing corn. To take this one step further, would you believe it if I told you this little boy, now a young man of 12, began his own sweetcorn farm at the ripe old-age of six? Yeah, you heard me right.

Fast forward a little over eight generations and meet 1st Generation farmer Bob Heath. Bob is also a corn farmer. The kicker is he is 95-years-old and started his farm at the age of 45. Even more astonishing he still supervises the day-to-day operations of the farm.

Young Weston Hannan holding ear of corn in his cornfield.
Bob Heath sitting on his front porch.

Where The Food Comes From visited Weston Hannan in Sun Prairie, WI on August 8. Weston is an amazing young man and I hope I can do his story justice. We spoke with Weston, his mentor Jerry Tierney, seed supplier and Sweet Corn Portfolio Manager for Syngenta Vegetable Seeds Glenn McKay, and his folks Dan and April Hannan. Quite an entourage if you ask me.

Ironically, Weston does not come from a farming background. His father is in finance and mom is a medical professional. While Chip was speaking with Dan and April, I went off with Weston into the cornfield behind his house to take a few pictures and ask some questions of my own.

April and Dan Hannon standing in front of stream.
Weston Hannan running with baseball bat in hand of baseball field.

Now I have two sons so curiosity got the best of me. I asked Weston, “What do you do for fun?” Weston told me he plays centerfield in little league baseball and that he was “pushed into it” by mom and dad. You see they wanted him to enjoy being a kid and not just grow corn. I chuckled to myself, I totally agree with mom and dad. Being an outgoing kid, he went on to say, “And if I have worked too much during the week I don’t play well.” I am sure as adults we can all relate to that.

I got a bit ahead of myself here. Let’s get back up and find out how all this happened.

Turns out the tractor four-year-old Weston was chasing belonged to his mentor Jerry Tierney. Day after day Jerry would see Weston riding his bike, chasing his tractor and somehow realized this little boy meant business. With my own kids growing up in a crowded suburban area I was a little dubious about allowing a four-year-old to ride his bike all over. But, according to his father Dan there were not many houses in the area and mom April was able to watch Weston’s every move, even if it meant following him in the car. Go April!

Jerry Tierney with daughter Patti squatting in front of cornfield.
Jerry Tierney and young Weston Hannan posing on red tractor with blue house in background.
Jerry Tierney and young Weston Hannan learning to drive red tractor with houses in the background.

Jerry took it upon himself to teach Weston how to drive the tractor and set him up with a small patch of land to start his own farm. And the lessons began. Things did not always go well, but per Weston, “We learn from failure.” Such a mature philosophy for someone so young.

Chip’s first interview took place with Weston in his cornfield behind his home. They were pretty deep in the field and I couldn’t hear the interview. This was definitely one of those times I wish I could hack into the soundman’s headphones and hear it all for myself.

Hannan's backyard with trees and cornfield.
Chip and Weston Hannan carrying Syngenta bags in Weston's cornfield.
Chip and Weston Hannan holding Syngenta bags in front of cornfield.

You most likely noticed the Syngenta bags Chip and Weston are holding. So, what is that about? Enter Syngenta Vegetable Seeds’ Sweet Corn Portfolio Manager Glenn McKay. Syngenta is a company that utilizes science to improve seeds to produce better food, in this case corn. Glenn provided Weston with 15 varieties of corn to grow and test to see which one tasted better. And the winner is TRIPLE SWEET Sweet Corn. Sorry folks, that’s all you get. You will hear more about Syngenta in an upcoming episode.

Single ear of corn on stalk in cornfield.
Chip, Weston Hannan, and Glenn McKay holding corn in cornfield with houses in the background.

We already know Weston was “pushed” into baseball by his mom and dad. So naturally we were curious to know if he has any other hobbies. I don’t think the answer will surprise you. Weston keeps a garden and grows tomatoes, hot and green peppers, red and white onions, plums and pumpkins. With permission I took a tomato off the vine to taste and it was delicious.

Garden flanked by cornfield and houses.

Let’s get real he is only 12. What about video games? Again, no surprise. Weston likes to make his screen time “educational.” Normally I would have thought “Yeah right. Dad told him to say that.” But after meeting him I totally believe it. He is not a big gamer and said he likes to challenge himself. I know so many kids like him… not!

I know this all sounds like something I made up. Trust me it’s not. Ready for more? At the ripe old-age of seven Weston’s passion for people and the land led to the formation of Harvest in the Gardens, a non-profit organization whose focus is providing food for those who go without. Since its beginnings Harvest in the Gardens has raised over $150,000 dollars to help feed those in need. Harvest in the Gardens donates it proceeds to Sunshine Place and the Deforest Food Pantry, and contributes to Sun Prairie and DeForest area Blessings in a Backpack program.

Dan, April, Weston, and Will Hannan with Harvest in the Gardens t-shirts in front of sign.

Dan, April, Weston, and Will Hannan

O'Conner and Hannan families with Harvest in the Gardens t-shirts standing in pine trees.

O'Conners and Hannans

Jerry Tierney with six-year-old Weston kneeling in the grass.

Jerry Tierney and six-year-old Weston at the first Harvest in the Gardens

Since then, the Hannans together with the O’Conner family have made Harvest in the Gardens a yearly event.

Okay, time for my pitch – well not really. This year’s Harvest in the Gardens will be held August 24 from 3-10 pm in Sun Prairie, WI. Believe me, this field producer is going to work very hard at convincing Chip to go back to WI and hang out with these amazing folks.

Move Over Lemonade

Driving down a road it’s common to see kids selling lemonade. But, what about a kid selling his own homegrown corn? Until now I have never seen this. Weston has his farm stand set-up on a pretty busy road. It was amazing to see the constant flow of people stopping to buy corn and just chat.

Weston Hannan in front of display of corn at the corn stand with cornfield in the background.
Chip, Jerry Tierney, Glenn McKay, and Weston Hannan with Weston's Sweet Corn Sign by side of road.

No surprise Chip had to interview some of the customers. Honestly, I could not keep up with the number of people he was speaking to. Gretchen O’Leary really drove the point home about how delicious Weston’s corn is by eating it in front of the cameras – brave women. Wendy Marshall said she stops whenever she is passing by. In fact, Wendy said she watches the show with her dad when she is at his home taking care of him. Honestly, that was a pretty cool thing to hear.

Chip and Gretchen O'Leary in hat eating corn next to a pile of corn at a corn stand.
Chip, Wendy Marshall and Weston Hannan at the corn stand.

The sun was setting and it was time to leave the corn stand. Our crew was invited back to the Hannan’s for the most incredible barbecue I have ever been too. It was outside on the patio Chip interviewed Dan and April. When I say I missed the whole thing – I missed the whole thing. I didn’t realize it was going on and just continued to enjoy the party. But, from what Chip told me it was so warm and heartfelt it brought tears to everyone’s eyes who was listening.

I can’t even begin to sum Weston up. He is a mature and incredible young man with a blessed personality and totally gives credit where credit is due. Per Weston, “I could not have done it without the help of my mom, dad, and brother.”

Warning, now is the time for one of my digressions. What’s next for Weston? In my opinion and judging from the below pictures, Weston’s next adventure is taking him into culinary arts. I texted the family to wish them Happy Holidays and Dan sent me back a few pictures.

Gray Dutch oven on kitchen counter.
Weston Hannan shredding cheese in a wheel of cheese in kitchen.

What 12-year-old boy asks for a Dutch oven for Christmas? Apparently, Weston. Actually, Weston is in the process of developing his own set of rubs and since the time of the shoot is working on creating his own recipes. Being the editor of the Where The Food Comes From cookbook, I guess you know what I will be asking Weston for next. Something tells me I’ll get a pretty amazing recipe.

In reality, Weston wants to attend the University of Colorado and eventually become a CEO of one of Vail, CO’s ski resorts. The goal is to make a little money to come back and you guessed it – farm.

Where To Next?

Time to pack up the car and head to Coloma, WI to visit with Bob and Heidi Heath. Remember way back in the beginning of this article I mentioned a 95-year-old farmer? You do? Great. Let’s meet Bob and his daughter – 2nd generation owner Heidi Heath.

Bob Heath sitting in his SUV.
Heidi Heath in cornfield.

Chip’s first interview took place with Heidi in the cornfield of this sprawling 600-acre farm. And like most farms Bob and Heidi Heath grow other crops. But what totally blew my mind was the flowers Heidi grows on her farm within a farm – Heidi Heath Farm.

Chip and Heidi Heath standing in dirt next to cornfield.
Heath Farms Heidi's garage door sign.
Pot of yellow flowers with other plants around it on a patio.

Every plant is so perfect they actually look fake. I took so many pictures it was so hard for me to chose which one to put in this article. I picked the above picture for the brilliance of the colors. I would have asked to buy one, but I don’t think I could have gotten it on the plane to come back to Florida.

How about some fun facts? Fun Fact 1: Heidi’s flowers are so beautiful she supplies Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, to decorate the outside of their stadium. Fun Fact 2: We all know how beautiful the landscaping is on golf courses. Heidi supplies SentryWorld Golf Course in Stevens Point, WI with over 30,000 of her beautiful flowers. I am going to go out on a limb here. Hole 16 is called “the Flower Hole.” Why? This hole is surrounded by more than 33,000 flowers. I think it stands to reason some of those – or maybe all – must be Heidi’s.

Time to climb into the trucks and head out to the far fields. There were five of us total and we could not all fit in one pickup truck. Naturally Chip and our two cameramen went with Bob. Given the fact I was not in that truck I missed the whole interview. The interview is awesome and I am so happy you will hear it in the episode.

Ready for a lesson in sod? We all know sod is what adorns most of our front yards. And it goes without say that sod is planted on professional baseball fields. Now do me a favor. Close your eyes and picture what sod looks like on a baseball field. Smooth like velvet with various shades of green. I assumed – and probably most of you do too – it is how the grounds keeper cuts the grass on a bias. Couldn’t be more wrong. It is actually grown that way! And once harvested it is rolled and shipped to its new home. One of Bob’s sod destinations is Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

Heath Farms aerial view of one sod field with trees.
Heath Farms aerial view sod field with rain bird.
Panoramic view of freshly landscaped baseball field.

Generations Come Together

What happens when a 12-year-old farmer meets a 95-year-old farmer? Time to find out. Weston joined Bob on the front patio of his house. The funny thing is they both knew about the other but had never met. Chip was off camera ready to guide the conversation, but there was never a lag in the conversation between Weston and Bob. Go figure just two farmers sitting down to shoot the breeze.

Weston Hannan and Bob Heath talking on front porch.

Weston told Bob about his background and Bob shared his. Naturally, they talked about growing corn and even enjoyed eating an ear during the interview. Bob told Weston how he has made mistakes during his fifty-year farming career, but when on to say there are, “No limits to learning.” Honestly, I couldn’t agree with this more. I am a firm believer that once we stop learning and challenging ourselves that is pretty much the end of us.

Weston’s final question to Bob was what advice could he give him. Bob’s answer, “Buy land.” How true is that.

Red flowers with a pancake dish on a print table cloth.
Sliced cake and flowers on table.

I typically try to end a Behind-The-Scenes with something funny or a profound statement. Not this time. This ending is a call to action. Stephanie, if you are reading this, I am still waiting for the two recipes you promised.

Special thanks to Dan Hannan for sending me the wonderful images of Weston over the years.