State Fair

Meet the producer behind the Minnesota State Fair's famous roasted corn

A person shows three ears of corn
Jerry Untiedt, owner of Untiedt Farm, holds three ears of corn on Aug. 8.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated: 6:12 a.m.

Of the hundreds of foods available for purchase at the Minnesota State Fair each year, few can be considered nutritious. Jerry Untiedt contends that his homegrown roasted corn is one of them.

With Untiedt’s help, the roasted corn in the building facing the Grand Stand is consistently one of the best selling foods of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, selling close to 250,000 ears each year.

But Untiedt says getting the veggies from his farm in Waverly, Minn., to the fairgrounds in St. Paul is no easy task. Abundant heat and a lack of rain have made this year’s preparation especially challenging.

A person holding corns
Jerry Untiedt says his corn, freshly harvested in this Aug. 8 photo, gets better each year.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Untiedt has produced for the State Fair for about 20 years. He decided early on that when it came to producing sweet corn, he was willing to take on extra costs to yield the highest quality possible.

Everything is hand harvested, which is unusual for most modern vegetable farms, according to Untiedt. He monitors seed varieties and growing strategies to keep customers happy.

“We feel we’re able to put out a better product each year,” he said. “Staying on top of this is being a little bit scientist, being a little bit researcher and being a lot of hands on.”

An aerial view shows cornfield
An aerial view shows Untiedt's cornfield during irrigation on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Monticello.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Growing for the corn roast at the State Fair may seem like a dream gig for a local farm like Untiedt’s. But he calls it “a very, very trying proposition.”

“We’re planting this corn way back in May to try to hit a 12-day window in August and September,” he said.

Temperatures like we’ve had this summer speed up plant growth, complicating Untiedt’s harvest schedule.

Heat also hurts sales.

fresh sweet corn ears
Corn is planted in May to prepare for the fair.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“When it gets so hot, the appetite isn’t there,” Untiedt said. “There’s a lot of risk involved in this equation. We know that normally we will go through so many acres for the fair. But there’s no guarantee.”

It’s a labor of love easy for consumers to miss, Untiedt said. Despite climate challenges and inflationary pressures, the price of the fair's roasted sweet corn will stay the same this year.

Brad Ribar, who started the corn roast stand in 1985 and has been running it ever since, said the price has only increased twice since Untiedt got involved. He said it’s a decision that’s as much about principle as economics.

A person poses for a portrait
Jenna Untiedt, director of marketing and communications at Untiedt, poses for a portrait with freshly harvested corn.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“I actually love the fair and am very concerned that if it gets too expensive, it’s going to slow the growth of the fair,” he said. “I’d rather sell a lot more product.”

In addition, Ribar and Untiedt feel strongly about using the corn roast to give back to local communities. Over the past five years, Ribar has brought in high school dance teams from Farmington and Lakeville to work the stand for fundraising.

“The dirtier they get, the prouder they are of what they did that day. We’re like the coal miners of the fair — they walk home and everybody knows where they work. They’re all black, full of butter and soot and ash,” he said.

An aerial view shows cornfield
A tractor lays down the corn crops in Untiedt's cornfield on Aug. 8 in Monticello, Minn.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Untiedt says he makes sure food shelves like Second Harvest Heartland and Incarnation Catholic Church will take leftover sweet corn for those in need.

The farmer plans to keep supplying the State Fair as long as he can.

“Minnesota sweet corn, I believe and I’ve been told, is the best sweet corn in the United States,” he said proudly. “It’s got that flavor, it’s got that snap and we’ve got the type of weather that produces wonderful corn.”

Outside of the fair, products from Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm, including sweet corn, are sold at local grocery stores and stands throughout the Twin Cities metro.

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