Published May 30, 2014

Dan’s Blue Sweet

By Tomoko Ogawa

Many ideas and knowledge are generated and exchanged among Practical Farmers members and beyond. They might be about production methods, conservation practices or new research projects. Or, as in this case, the knowledge shared might be a new open-pollinated sweet corn variety developed by a late member of Practical Farmers.

Dan Specht, a beloved farmer-leader who had been pioneering in innovative farming and conservation practices, died last July while moving hay bales. He had been developing open-pollinated blue and yellow sweet corn for the last 10 years and had been especially keen on selecting the corn for its beautiful colors. I remember him showing me his beautiful corn at the pork tasting field day at the Gilberts’ farm in Iowa Falls in summer 2012. He examined and explained the details of each color and shade of corn as if we were peering a fine piece of jewelry.

Jack Knight, a longtime friend of Dan, helped him with the breeding process and learned about it alongside him. As far as he knows, Dan’s corn has now been grown by people in Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana, and has attracted interest not only from farmers, but also from some universities. Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine is currently trialing Dan’s seed production in isolation.

Jennifer Vazquez, Local Foods Planner & Meskwaki Community Farm Manager, helped Dan with some of the breeding process two summers ago and says she simply fell in love with the process – and with the corn. At that time, Dan was trying to get more blue in the corn. Dan told her that the blue corn he was working with was Hopi blue sweet corn, and she guesses some colors also come from Anasazi sweet corn. Last year, Jennifer and some members of the Meskwaki community farm grew Dan’s corn on their farm, Red Earth Gardens in Tama, and their customers very much liked it. She says this corn was not as sweet as other sweet corns, but had very nurturing, almost mineral flavor.

She adds, “Ground up, it also made some of the best and most colorful grits I’ve ever had.” This year, they mixed their seed with Dan’s, which they call Dan’s Blue Sweet, and are eager to see how the plants turn out, as well as how they will taste. They recently had a visitor from Ecuador, a Quechua indigenous farmer rights union worker, with whom they shared the stories about Dan’s corn as well.

Jennifer and Jack are planning to keep trading the seeds to continue diversifying the population. They hope more people will join them to help carry on Dan’s life’s work and legacy. If you are interested in growing Dan’s corn, contact Jack Knight ( or Jennifer Vazquez (

You might have seen some of Dan’s seed corn at our Cooperators’ Meeting, or 2014 annual conference. Have you planted any of Dan’s corn at your farm? Do you have any stories you would like to share about his corn?