I guess it’s the current heat wave that’s baking me and forcing me think about how nice it would be to sit inside an ice-cold movie theater at the moment. That’s not a possibility right now. Still it would be splendid, and by association, when I think of a theater I think of popcorn. Aren’t vicarious associations wonderful?
The binomen Zea Mays is more popularly referred to as corn or maize depending on where one lives, and the variety Everta pertains specifically to popcorn. Many kinds of corns are actually capable of popping when steam and pressure build up inside the hard outer shells of their kernels. However only Everta has been cultivated with the sole purpose of accentuating this delightful quality to perfection.
Bat Cave Well
It is believed that popcorn may have originated somewhere in Perú several thousand years ago. The oldest existing ears of popping corn, however, were unearthed in the United States at least according to the Popcorn Board. Yes, that is a real organization. I’d love to get a job there. People would ask, "So where do you work?" and I’d answer, "Oh, I work for the Popcorn Board. Would you like some? Butter and salt, or just plain?"
The earliest direct popcorn evidence traced to the Bat Cave Archeology Site, a series of rock ledges used as shelters on the edge of the Plains of San Agustin in western New Mexico. I couldn’t geolocate the exact spot — and indeed it’s not publicized because it’s considered to have continuing archeological significance — so the best I could find was USGS coordinates for Bat Cave Water Well. Besides, I don’t think Batman would be happy if told everyone where to find the Batcave. The map above should be reasonably close even if it’s not the exact spot where those ancient ears of popcorn were found in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and dated back a solid 4,000 years.
View Popcorn Capitals of the World in a larger map
Most popcorn cultivation, processing and consumption happens in the United States. The Agricultural Marketing Research Center’s Popcorn Profile noted that popcorn popularity began to skyrocket during the middle of the 20th Century, first as an affordable snack during the Great Depression and then as an alternative to candies made scarce because of sugar rationing during the Second World War. Those momentous back-to-back events lasting longer than a decade created an unanticipated tangential consequence for the crop. They established and solidified popcorn as a major snack food in the United States. AGMRC noted that "more than 80% of U.S. production is consumed domestically" so the habit continues to last more than a half-century later.
Several agricultural communities vie for the title of "Popcorn Capital of the World" Mapping the contenders outlines a primary cultivation area for this highly specialized crop: the US midwest from Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio, plus other states to a lesser degree. Growing popcorn still remains largely a mom-and-pop operation unlike more widely-consumed commodities. Again referring to the AGMRC Popcorn Profile,
Popcorn was produced by 968 farms on over 201,000 acres in 29 states during 2007 (most recent data). Nebraska is the top popcorn-producing state and produced 294.5 million pounds of shelled popcorn, or 34% of all popcorn production. Individual farm acreages used for popcorn production are quite small. For example, the majority of popcorn-producing farms raised only 100 to 250 acres of popcorn in 2007.
I thought I’d take a closer look at those towns claiming the Popcorn Capital crown to see which ones deserved the title legitimately. I took an extremely unscientific approach. Which place celebrated their popping harvest with the most gusto?
- Van Buren Popcorn Festival, August 8-10, 2013: the website included a countdown clock and promised "Three Days of Family Fun, Food, and Free Entertainment."
- Marion Popcorn Festival, Sept 5-7, 2013: the Village People will be the musical headliners on the main stage on Friday night!
- Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, September 7, 2013: named the "Best Festival of the Region" by readers of a local newspaper.
- North Loup Popcorn Days: Aug 23-25; Free popcorn all weekend.
- Ridgway Popcorn Day, Sept. 5-15, 2013: It seemed to be combined with the Gallatin County Fair although I wasn’t sure specifically which day was "Popcorn Day." It might be the day of the Popcorn 5K; Sept 13.
- Schaller Popcorn Days, July 12-13, 2013. I couldn’t find a dedicated website although the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune provided some advance publicity). I’m sorry we missed it.
My research demonstrated that each of the Popcorn Capitals took their title seriously. I don’t think I can crown a champion.
I only felt bad for the Village People. It’s a tragic slide from the heights of 1970’s disco superstardom all the way down to the 2013 Marion Popcorn Festival. I am sure that Marion, Ohio is a wonderful town, however nobody is going to confuse it with Greenwich Village.
I’ll be leaving on my annual state visit in a few days, and this year it’s Kentucky. Thank you for your suggestions — I do intend to incorporate some of them into my itinerary. Don’t be concerned if the regular 12MC publication schedule gets a little flaky either. I’ll post my discoveries from the road at times when it makes sense.
I would also encourage readers who have not yet subscribed to 12MC Twitter feed to consider doing that because I’ll likely post updates and photographs of Kentucky geo-oddities in real time.