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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Kid enjoys roasted sweet corn at Olathe Sweet Corn Festival, 1999
Child enjoys roasted "Olathe Sweet" sweet corn at 1999 Festival. Photo courtesy Olathe Sweet Corn Festival

Olathe Sweet Corn Festival

In just eight years, the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival has become an incredible success. The town of Olathe has a population of about 1,500, but has drawn 18,000 or more to its corn festival in the past three years.

Only a decade ago, Olathe sweet corn was not even a main crop in this agricultural area. In the late 1970s, Olathe was suffering from depressed agriculture conditions; the main crops-sugar beets and barley-were no longer in demand. Shops began to close, including the grocery and pharmacy. The small town seemed to be dying. About this time, Dave Galinat, a farmer who had developed several varieties of sweet corn, moved his sweet corn hybrid seed operation to the Olathe area. Olathe had the ideal climate for growing sweet corn-hot days and cool nights. Former Olathe mayor John Harold met Galinat, and before long Harold and other local farmers were growing Olathe sweet corn. By 1992, Harold's company "Tuxedo Corn Company," was a multi-million dollar enterprise. Because of Olathe sweet corn, the area became prosperous again, and stores came back. The town decided to celebrate its rebirth by holding a corn festival.

The town board contributed $2,500 to produce a small festival of about 250 attendees. The 1st Olathe Sweet Corn Festival had a battle of local bands, about 10 arts and crafts booths, contests and games. And the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival was born in August 1992. It attracted 850 people on a rainy day. What if the festival day had been sunny? The following year 2,500 people came, and has continued to grow, peaking at 20,000 in attendance in 1998. By 1997, the festival had become so big the Town Board of Trustees made the festival part of the town government, and it was incorporated as an enterprise fund. The festival was too big for the high school grounds where it had been held, and the city decided to build a park for the community which could also be used for the festival.

The corn festival caters to local non-profit organizations by providing them with opportunities to earn money. Their participation at the festival has earned more than $125,000. Only three paid staff and more than 400 volunteers time and resources to produce the festival. It's not surprising that the community of Olathe feel that Olathe sweet corn has put their town of 1,500 people on the map.

Admission to the festival includes all the sweet corn a person can eat. In 1999, participants consumed 70,000 ears of "Olathe Sweet" donated by the growers. The festival has continuous live entertainment on two stages, and more than 160 craft, game, food and commercial and novelty booths. The success of the festival has attracted major corporate sponsors, such as the Colorado Lottery and Pepsi, which helps to keep tickets affordable.

Project documentation includes a 14 page project report, 12 photos, four posters, festival brochures for previous years.

Originally submitted by: Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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