Make Holidays Pop with WIU School Spirit: Get Purple and Gold Popcorn
December 18, 2008
MACOMB, IL -- In need of a last-minute stocking stuffer? Or looking for something to make your holiday celebrations pop? Western Illinois University's agriculture department has just the item -- purple and gold organic popcorn. Grown on WIU's Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm, the popcorn is available 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 18; Friday, Dec. 19; Monday, Dec. 22; and Tuesday, Dec. 23 in 145 Knoblauch Hall on the WIU-Macomb campus. Single bags of the popcorn are available for $3 or 4 bags are available for $10.
"The popcorn is delicious and proceeds from the sale of it will support WIU's organic research program," said Joel Gruver, WIU agriculture assistant professor and director of the Allison Farm. According to Gruver, the farm's first crop of colorful popcorn was planted in 2007.
"That was a challenging year with poor germination and poor pollination due to silk clipping, but we managed to harvest a small crop. In 2008, despite mechanical difficulties with the planter, the crop was much more successful," he added. "We mowed out the poorly planted rows and planted buckwheat, which established very well. This actually made it much easier to harvest, suppressed weeds and didn't appear to have any negative effects on the popcorn. Beneficial insects attracted to the buckwheat may have actually helped protect the popcorn."
WIU students have been a key resource for the purple and gold popcorn project, Gruver noted. "It has been great to have student involvement. They have been a big help with hand harvesting, and during the last two WIU football seasons, we've sold the popcorn at the Ag Day Leathernecks' game. The agriculture department's student organizations -- the Horticulture Club in 2007 and Sigma Alpha sorority in 2008 -- helped us bag up the popcorn and split the proceeds with us," he explained.
Gruver said that popcorn research and interest continues to expand at WIU, and the ag department is working on local market opportunities for the crop.
"We recently had a successful 'pop' and 'taste' test at the Carmike Cinemas in Macomb, and we are engaged in dialogue with a local hotel that is exploring selling the popcorn in its gift shop and providing executive guests with complimentary bags of popcorn," he said.
In 2003, according to Gruver, popcorn was designated the official snack food of Illinois, and while most of the state's popcorn crop (approximately 20,000 acres) is produced in southern Illinois, he and the agriculture department plan to encourage farmers here in west central Illinois to consider alternative crops like popcorn.
"We plan to grow more purple and gold popcorn in 2009, and we may expand production of some other colorful crops we trialed this year," Gruver said.
For more information about the Allison Farm (located in southern Warren County, seven miles north of Sciota), contact Gruver at (309) 298-1215 or J-Gruver@wiu.edu. Learn more about WIU's Organic Research program and organic farming by visiting wiu.edu/ag/organicfarm/.