The Story of Our Corn
Dr. David Shields, a University of South Carolina professor and proponent of heirloom vegetable, writes of Hickory King (a close, if not the same, variety of corn as our Hickory Cane); "Now a signature corn of Appalachia—an upland dent corn famous for kernel size, for its taste, for its quality as a hominy, meal, and mash corn—Hickory King appeared in the seed markets of the South in the early 1880s. By the end of the decade it had been embraced by the first generation of corn breeders working at the new agricultural experimental stations, crossed with an assortment of varieties to create the next great variety. But none of the crosses supplanted Hickory King in the affections of planters, millers, and distillers. There were originally two sorts—a white and a yellow. The former would become the dominant version in the decades after its introduction."
Sadly, Hickory Cane fell out of favor in the 1950s when the population boom happened and hybrid varieties, which yield more corn but with less flavor/nutrition, took its place. But many seedsavers and small farmers maintain lines of Hickory Cane, including River Plains Farm who supplies all our corn.
Riverplains Farm lies in a lovely crook of the Holston River, between Strawberry Plains and New Market in Jefferson County, Tennessee. It has been in the Niceley family since the 1940’s. After decades of commercial dairy operations, conventional vegetable growing and equestrian services, Riverplains is forging a new identity based on sustainability and preservation.
They are 100% dedicated to non-toxic farming and preserving genetic diversity -- from the heirloom (non-GMO) seeds they put in the ground to the heritage animal breeds they raise as livestock. In addition to grass-based livestock production, they are passionate about growing heirloom grain crops in our fertile river-bottom land. Their favorites are the older varieties of open-pollinated corn such as Hickory Cane and Tennessee Red Cob, both historically important to the region.
As a multi-generational, work-in-progress enterprise, Riverplains Farm is excited to be part of a revolution in farming that will hopefully bring new life, in more ways than one, to some of the best, time-honored traditions from East Tennessee.
Valentine Mills is a locally owned and operated by Clive Shelley and Megan Valentine. They're located just off of I-40, on exit 412, and a mere 20 minute drive from Sevierville and the smoky mountains. There you will find a variety of items ranging from their own Stone ground cornmeal and grits, to fresh produce (changes depending on availability) and even handcrafts. Their hours vary greatly, but there is almost always someone home, so please give them a call before hand and let them know you are coming. They'll be glad to come down and give you the "Nickle" tour!