Sweet corn has been a part of my life since I grew up in Illinois, where on country roads sweet corn stands seemed to spring up everywhere. These stands were operated by local farmers and their families, selling corn they grew and harvested.
That’s why I appreciate Chuck Edler (or as everyone calls him, Farmer Chuck) in Los Banos. He has given folks in our area not only a farmstand, but a rare sweetness in his fresh corn and his homegrown watermelons, tomatoes and onions–all of which he grows and picks himself, helped by a few friends.
When the end of September comes each year, and Farmer Chuck’s farmstand closes, I feel sad, but I know he’ll return the following year around the Fourth of July, as he has done for more than 20 years.
For those who haven’t tasted his corn and watermelons, or the tomatoes, onions, peppers and cantaloupes he also offers his customers, you have just a few more weeks in September to try them–before he shuts down for the season at the end of the month. He is open for business Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you had previously been out to his corn stand in July on Ingomar Grade (a continuation of Los Banos’ H Street) just west of Badger Flat Road, you need to know he’s not there anymore.
He is now selling his fresh produce out of his barn on Badger Flat Road, between Pacheco Boulevard and Ingomar Grade/H Street. It’s a little cooler there in the barn for both the salespersons and the customers, and it has easier access and better parking.
What’s amazing to me about Farmer Chuck Edler is that he is still going strong at age 72, with no plan to ease up. He is helped by his wife JoAnn, their daughter Leah, and his many friends who help him pick and sell, including Noelia Costa, Carl Walsh, Raul Cervantes, Dona and Richard Spark and Gabe Rodriguez, to name a few.
When I go out to Farmer Chuck’s place, I enjoy the camaraderie with Chuck and the other folks who are helping him. I make it a point each weekend to chat with them while I get a dozen corn (I like his “peaches and cream” variety especially), a watermelon, a cantaloupe and a bag of tomatoes, which taste like tomatoes my father grew in Illinois.
I appreciate the concept of “farm to table,” and it is easy to experience that with Farmer Chuck by simply driving a little bit, filling up a few bags, bringing them home and chowing down the food.
Every September my sister Joan gives Farmer Chuck a “certificate of recognition” in appreciation for what he does for the Westside area. Joan, too, remembers the taste of freshly grown corn, watermelons and tomatoes from her Illinois childhood.
I wondered what keeps Farmer Chuck going, so I asked him. “I like growing tasty produce,” he said, “providing it to my customers and interacting with the many people who come to buy the produce and have conversations with me.”
His wife JoAnn is his main helper and likes interacting with the customers as much as Chuck does. Carl Walsh, who has been helping him for years, told me he, too, enjoys helping Farmer Chuck plant, pick, transport and arrange the produce.
Raul Cervantes is another loyal helper and customer. A painter by trade, Raul has been helping Chuck for the past ten years plant and harvest his crops. The other day, Chuck told me, Raul dropped off one of Chuck’s watermelons to a friend who, after tasting it, asked Raul to bring him 20 more.
Duane and John Brown, senior citizen customers of Farmer Chuck’s, told me they haven’t found any produce this good in the area, especially not in stores. “Chuck grows the best tomatoes and corn I’ve ever tasted,” Duane said.
“I like his watermelons a lot,” said his brother John. “They are so sweet. And I eat a lot of his peaches-and-cream sweet corn, too.”
As a guy who spent his formative years in and around farm stands, I recommend to my family members and friends that they visit Farmer Chuck’s, not only for the good produce but for the camaraderie.
When I’m at Farmer Chuck’s farmstand, I feel like I did when I was a kid, hanging with interesting people from many walks of life who like to gather and talk with each other.
Listening to Chuck, JoAnn, their helpers and their customers talk and kid around, I feel as though I’ve gone back in time to when people interacted with each other for entertainment, with no need for cell phones or video games.
Good locally grown food keeps the body healthy, and hanging with friendly, convivial people, I think, helps keep the mind and spirit healthy. How much all this is needed in today’s world.
I appreciate Farmer Chuck Edler for giving me that experience every summer.