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Kernels of joy at county fair for Cottage Grove church

Jack Perkins, who organizes and runs the sweet corn booth at the Washington County Fair for Cottage Grove United Church of Christ in Old Cottage Grove with one of the six benches he and a fried buil for people sit on while dining on corn and lemonade.t

It might be the cheapest food at the fair -- and the healthiest.

The fresh corn-on-the-cob sells for $2 and ice cold lemonade for $1 to wash it down, said John Perkins. He's making a pitch for people to stop by the Cottage Grove United Church of Christ corn booth while at the Washington County Fair this week.

The church is in its 20th year at the fair. The idea came from the church board of directors in 1993.

"I told them they were crazy," Perkins said in an interview.

The man who took over the project moved away, and that's how Perkins got the job of organizing it every year since.

On a year with great weather, the corn operation makes up to $10,000 for the church.

But then, Perkins does a lot of things for the church such as build a new addition, install a celebration garden with memorial stones he designed and makes himself.

Fair-goers didn't have any place to sit and enjoy their corn, so Perkins, with a friend, built six benches. The church's name is etched with a router and benches painted in corn colors of yellow and green. (Cottage Grove Farmer's Market shoppers can sit on them on during the Thursday afternoon markets at the church.)

A retired electrician, Perkins, 63, spent much of his work years building Chinese restaurants. The first owner liked his work and referred him to the next one.

He's also got the operation of the corn booth down to a fine science.

It starts in February with permits for the fair board and gathering up the volunteers. "It takes three shifts of eight people for five days," Perkins said. "Most of them just need to be reminded."

It also takes four pickup trucks, with trailers, to haul the booth parts to the fairgrounds and 15 people to set it up. It takes about three hours.

There are two corn deliveries for a total of 1,000 ears a day.

Most years, the church buys corn locally from the Tanks, but the crops are behind so the corn is coming from a Winona farm.

Corn is soaked in water and cookers hold 70 cobs each. They are cooked 15 minutes. When the husk is peeled back, it becomes a handle.

After Perkins wraps up the fair and gets the booth stowed away, it will be time to start organizing the cooking of 600 pounds of turkey for the annual fall turkey dinner.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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