Butter, cheddar, caramel, kettle, flavored, natural — popcorn comes in many forms and fashions.
The popcorn in local grocery stores or at the ball game may just have come farm-to-table from Yadkin County’s own Shallowford Farms Popcorn, which was formed 31 years ago.
The owner of Shallowford Farms, Caswell Booe, is an N.C. State University graduate. His father worked for Dennis Popcorn Factory as a distributor, and the company was looking for a popcorn supplier.
So when Booe graduated from the university, he decided to grow two or three acres of popcorn, and within a couple of years, he was up to 20 to 30 acres, explained Janine Lewis, sales and marketing representative for Shallowford Farms Popcorn.
“In 1987, he started growing popcorn while he in was in school,” said Amanda Booe, Caswell’s wife, who also works at the facility. “I was doing invoices in his parents’ basement on an IBM typewriter.”
Later, Dennis Foods closed, Lewis said, and Shallowford Farms purchased their equipment and supplies.
Booe said the production facility in the Huntsville community started operating in 1998 and Dennis retired in 2000, so there was a couple of years of transition.
Since the mid-1990s, Shallowford has expanded to sell the popcorn kernels in bulk loads internationally, and the Yadkin Valley Popcorn products such as movie, butter, cheese and kettle can be found in the deli sections of Food Lion stores. The newest line of products, gourmet caramel in a multitude of flavors like caramel, strawberry, piña colada, chocolate, grape and blue raspberry, are done in house and sold in the Shallowford Farms store.
The farm grows and produces two types of popcorn. The mushroom popcorn is used to make kettle corn and caramel corn, while the butterfly popcorn is the kind used in the movie theater popcorn.
Once the kernels are harvested, they are stored in 10 giant silos on the Yadkin County property. The kernels are then moved by air into the production building where they are filtered from the ground dirt, cob pieces and other waste from the field, and then kernels are distributed in the building where needed.
At one station, the kernels are bagged for bulk exportation, Lewis said. Recently, they were working to ship 30 loads to Cambodia, with each load weighing 45,500 pounds, 910 bags on a load stacked floor to ceiling. Each bag weighs 50 pounds.
The bags are sewn together by machine to avoid attracting rodents, which the kernels and glue would naturally attract, she explained.
It usually takes 40 to 50 days for bulk buyers to receive their product, which is sent by truck to the railway and then to ports in Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, and then shipped by cargo ship to other countries.
“We are farm to table. Everything that is done here, we grow ourselves in North Carolina,” Lewis said, noting they own and lease farmland in Yadkin and other nearby counties.
While people ensure the machines are operating properly, and assist in the bagging and boxing at the end of the production line, none of the popcorn is touched by a person from beginning to end. It is harvested by machine, and produced and popped and bagged by machine, and then boxed for shipping.
There is no waste at the production facility either, Lewis said. All of the kernels and popcorn that might hit the ground, or are filtered as not for human consumption, like cob waste, are stored in a separate silo and sold for animal feed.
A large metal building on the property houses farming equipment, including a combine used for harvest.
The store at Shallowford Farms Popcorn, 3732 Hartman Road, Yadkinville, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours of the production facility also are available for $5 per person by appointment.
For more information on the farm, visit shallowfordfarmspopcorn.com or call 336-463-5938.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.