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Canning boy has room to grow

From picking to selling the corn himself, Parker Smiley, 12, does it all at Newcombe Sweet Corn in Upper Canard.
ANDREW RANKIN
From picking to selling the corn himself, Parker Smiley, 12, does it all at Newcombe Sweet Corn in Upper Canard. ANDREW RANKIN - The Chronicle Herald

Parker Smiley doesn’t need to show up for work at 5:30 a.m., nor is he required to dress exactly like his boss.

But all summer long the 13-year-old Canning resident has landed at Ian Newcombe’s doorstep at least a half-hour early for a morning of harvesting, wearing brown Carhartt overalls and Blundstone boots.

This past Sunday morning was no different.

The pair picked 100 dozen stalks of corn inside two hours at the 49-hectare Upper Canard farm. Parker picked 50 dozen and then tended to the busy corn stand bordering Highway 341 in the Annapolis Valley. Labour Day weekend will mark the end of what has been an eventful harvest for Parker and company.

“My friends don’t believe that I have job because they think I’m too young,” said Parker while negotiating the steady line of customers arriving for their choice of sweet or peaches and cream corn on the cob. “I like doing stuff with my hands. I’m happiest outside and I could use a bit of extra money.

“It really gets busy here at around five or six when people get off work and some of them will buy up to five dozen corn on the cob. I like seeing them come and going away with really good fresh food that I helped grow.”

He’s counting down the days to his 14 th birthday when he’s old enough to get a tractor licence and he can hit the roads. For now Parker must be satisfied with on-the-farm tractor duties.

“I’ll harrow down some of these fields, so it’s like crushing the crops down with a big tiller. I’d love to be a farmer.”

He came to the farm three summers ago full of desire but with zero farming experience. A family friend recommended the boy to Newcombe and his wife and farm co-owner Andrea Palmer. He wanted to be a farmer and initially the couple wondered whether the 11-year-old could withstand the gruelling work and ungodly hours. He quickly put their concerns to rest and now they are hoping to pass on the 30-year-old business to the youngster.

“He’s an old soul in a young boy’s body,” said Palmer with a laugh. “Our kids ran the fields for us but they never loved farming and it was more about making money.

“Money drives Parker. He has things he wants to do in life and he wants to have his money, too, but he has a real passion for farming. We really hope his desire continues because as he gets into his mid and late teens we’d like him to continue on and manage the farm.”

He’s among a foursome of teenagers employed during summertime harvest. They’ve weathered the ups and downs of the industry like veterans, said Palmer. The farm survived a devastating frost to start the season, losing what Palmer thought would be a quarter of the season’s corn yield.

“But remarkably, Mother Nature works in very strange ways, the crops recovered and produced quite well. But it was heartbreaking and there were a few tears shed, for the kids, too. Parker and the kids had uncovered the early growth and they saw what the corn looked like, and it was brown. That’s just sickening to them because of all their hard work. They were wondering how much summer work they’d get.”

But a two month stretch of humid weather has worked magic on the heat-loving crop. Parker’s loyalty is paying off. Out of his 25-hour work week, Parker manages the corn stand roughly four days a week.

By day’s end the 100 or so dozen corn cobs for sale usually disappear. He always gets a few bucks in tips. About a quarter of the corn harvested at the farm goes to the road side stand and the rest goes to local markets.

“He made six dollar in tips the other day and he asks me, ‘Can I keep those? I say, ‘If people are leaving you a tip for your service, certainly.’ He’s a great little ambassador for us.”

“If we tell him to be at the house for six, he’ll be there for 5:30 or 5 a.m. He’ll be sitting on our doorstep. We’ll hear the dogs barking and look outside and he’s out there wearing his Carhartt's and Blundstone's, just like Ian.”

Parker's grateful for the opportunity and his future is set on Newcombe’s Sweet Corn. He only wishes more of his friends had the same affection for farming.

“I think Annapolis Valley wouldn’t be as great if it wasn’t for farmers and all the work they’ve done for so many years. I think farming fresh food is important. I don’t have a lot of friends who farm. They like video games. I mean, I like them but I don’t play them because I’m outside most of the time.”

Glenn Ells, the former Kings North MLA and minister of environment, paid Parker a visit Sunday, buying up five dozen cobs for a church corn boil. He figures the budding farmer’s got a bright future ahead of him.

“He’s the future of agriculture and this is the future of agriculture in Nova Scotia,” said Ells, a farmer and graduate of Nova Scotia Agriculture College and McGill University. “In a smaller populated province this will be the way, direct from the field to the customer.”

Parker’s the boy to make it work.

“We love him, and he’s grown on us,” said Palmer. “We’ve put a lot of kids through our operation, doctors and lawyers. You need to be hard working and you need to be committed. It makes better people out of these kids. We certainly have high hopes for Parker.”

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