Corn is a classic end of summer vegetable. For me, one bite of sweet kernels smothered in salty butter summons childhood memories of shucking husks on the porch, family barbeques, camping, and picnics in the park. Corn originated in Central America 7000 years ago from teosinte ("mother of corn"), a wild grass, which looks much different than the corn we know today. The Olmec and Mayans domesticated corn, and although corn is actually a grain (it’s part of the grass family), it was and still is often used in cooking as a vegetable or starch. Like amaranth and quinoa, corn much revered.
A staple crop in Central America, corn was developed into a number of different classes, including sweet, popping, flint (hominy), flour, and dent, each with a different use. Corn also used to be intercropped, with companion plants squash and beans, known as the "Three Sisters." The three crops benefit from each other: the corn provides a structure for the beans to climb; the beans provide nitrogen to the soil (corn is a nitrogen fiend!); and, the squash shade the soil, helping prevent weeds and maintain soil moisture.
Corn production spread north to the southwestern United States and south down the coast of Peru. Between 1500-1600, many New World settlers noted fields of corn in Canada. Jacque Cartier saw it when he visited present-day Montreal and Champlain found it growing in Georgian Bay. Archeologists have even found evidence of corn near Campleville, ON from 1200 ACE.
But corn has a dark side too. Over the last few centuries, corn production in North America has taken a swift upwards turn, resulting in the overproduction and resulting overconsumption of processed corn.
As with any mono-crop, most corn suffers from genetic modification to make it stand up to the plights of industrial production: that is, it’s altered to withstand pests, degraded growing conditions, and often, industrial usage. Genetic modification is problematic because of it effects the environment, public health, and social welfare. It builds crop resilience against pests and disease, but has resulted in "superbugs" that require more and more chemicals to beat. Genetically modified crops reduce biodiversity as these altered organisms can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms. Large agro-conglomerates literally own genetically modified seeds so farmers are forced to do so every year because they are engineered not to have seeds saveable. Farmers suffer financially and governments have to step in to subsidize these crops.
Opting for organic, non-GMO corn and corn products is the safest route today. Many sustainable, organic, and LFP-certified farms intercrop corn because without chemical fertilizer, we are forced to "go back to our roots" and use companion plants, such as beans, so fix nitrogen for the corn.