INMAN — When Inman High School teacher Kim Baldwin brought popcorn kernels to class, several of her students were surprised to learn you could make popcorn without using a microwave.
"It was really amazing to see the number of kids who had never popped popcorn on the stove," Kim Baldwin said.
Dwight Baldwin, Kim Baldwin's father-in-law, grew five acres of jumbo mushroom popcorn as an alternative to his usual crops of field corn, milo, wheat and soybeans.
"I was eating popcorn last winter and it went through my mind; 'why don't we grow this stuff here,'" Dwight Baldwin said.
After doing some research with growers in Nebraska, Dwight Baldwin found while there was a surplus of popcorn there, but few popcorn growers in Kansas.
"Popcorn likes cool nights and our Kansas nights aren't always that cool," Dwight Baldwin said.
Popcorn required less nutrients to grow than other crops, it also means tending more fragile plants that give a smaller yield.
As a non-GMO product, Dwight Baldwin had to ensure no unwanted chemicals or pesticides were sprayed onto the popcorn.
"You have to let your neighbors know where your field is so your crop won't get killed," Dwight Baldwin said.
In the fall of 2017, when the popcorn's moisture content tested between 12.5 and 15 percent, Dwight Baldwin harvested his crop.
"The popcorn ears are a lot smaller than our field corn," Kim Baldwin said. "It's a significant difference, even though it's jumbo mushroom popcorn, which are bigger kernels than movie popcorn."
The initial yield of the popcorn dropped 25 percent — from 60 bushel per acre down to 45 after being cleaned and color sorted.
"This first year was a major learning experience," Dwight Baldwin said.
The Baldwin family experimented with popping the popcorn by using the microwave, an air popper and a pot on the stove.
"Even before harvest, we pulled some ears off and tried different popping techniques," Kim Baldwin said. "Once we picked it and it popped, we knew that we had something."
"It makes great caramel corn or kettle corn," Dwight Baldwin said.
The Baldwins decided to package the popcorn kernels and sell it in individual and bulk portions under the brand name "Papa Baldy's Popcorn."
"There's not a lot of popcorn grown in this area," Kim Baldwin said. "It's a specialty crop and we're excited to share it with customers."
Dwight Baldwin is spending the winter months, which are typically slow for farmers, taking his products to area stores.
"Dwight's been doing the store-to-store visits and telling them our story and how we grow and package it on our farm," Kim Baldwin said. "A lot of the stores have been really open to giving us a chance."
"It's a great conversation starter when people hear you grew some popcorn," Dwight Baldwin said.
Papa Baldy's popcorn is available at the Cook's Nook or Krehbiel's Specialty Meats in McPherson, Scott's Hometown Foods in Lindsborg, Cornerstone Grocery in Inman and Canton Service Center in Canton.
"I think right now we're in 12 or 15 stores as far south as Newton and as far north as Manhattan," Kim Baldwin said. "This has all been a really cool experience for our whole family."
For more information about Papa Baldy's popcorn, visit https://www.facebook.com/papabaldys.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.