Patriotic popcorn an opportunity for Lamberton couple
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 11/22/2012 7:00 PM
LAMBERTON, Minn. — It was color that won out over other traits when Ryan and Tiffany Batalden chose popcorn varieties for their Lamberton farm. The result is a patriotic mix of red, white and blue kernels packaged and marketed as Patriot Pops Organic Popcorn.
The idea got its start five years ago when Tiffany was selling homemade bread at farmers markets. She baked up to 80 loaves a week, grinding wheat grown on their organic farm. She thought of other items the couple could produce and sell.
"And I thought it would be neat to sell red, white and blue popcorn, especially around the Fourth of July," she said.
They planted a few rows in their garden.
It didn't do well, they said. The cobs and yield were small. They forgot about it for a few years.
But last year, the opportunity was there to add it to their cropping mix. Besides corn and soybeans, the couple planted oilseed radishes for its seed, Ryan said.
It also seemed like a good time to add popcorn, not for their garden, but to grow in their fields.
They purchased the farm, mere miles from Ryan's parents, Phil and Deb, in 2004. Ryan was working with his parents who had transitioned their farm to organic production. That move opened a door for Ryan to return to farming.
When Tiffany and Ryan married in 2005 and moved to their farm, they rented 80 acres. They now farm 350 and share equipment and labor with Phil and Deb.
Besides their organic operation, they direct market meat from their Black Angus herd. They have a dozen stock cows and sell quarters and halves.
The meat marketing venture gave them the experience to market popcorn. But, first, they had to plant it.
They planted just one acre and treated it much like the field corn that surrounded the acre.
"If you didn't know it was popcorn, you would've been surprised by it," Ryan said. "It looked like a different variety of field corn."
It worked well to cultivate it with the field corn, Tiffany said. It was about the same height. Due to their concerns over the popcorn's standability, they surrounded it with field corn. Some of it lodged.
They thoroughly cleaned out the combine and were surprised to see a popcorn setting not only on the combine but also on their moisture reader. They harvested three to four rows at a time. The five-inch cobs yielded 55 bushels or 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of popcorn.
Once harvested, they stored it in large tote bags.
The couple found the white variety had higher moisture than the red or blue and dried it down using fans. They popped many batches of popcorn to check on uniform popping. The red kernels offer a pleasant nutty flavor, Tiffany said.
While it pops white, the hulls retain the kernel color.
They admit there is a learning curve to raising popcorn and that could include packaging, labeling and marketing. They had some help with the project. Tiffany's sister and brother-in-law, Kathleen and Justin Smith, live a few miles away and have marketed their own camelina oil. Their advice was important as the Batalden's prepared for sales.
When it came to packaging the popcorn, the couple worked with a graphic artist on the label design. A nutrition label and UPC code, for use when the packages may eventually be sold to food cooperatives, are also part of the label.
They are listed in the Minnesota Grown directory, have a website at www.patriotpopspopcorn.com and are on Facebook where the 100th person to like their page will receive a free bag of popcorn, Tiffany said.