(Bitter) Sweet Corn

After 30 Years, Liskeys Close Produce Stand

Posted: April 22, 2014

John and Patsy Liskey, owners of Liskey Sweet Corn stand off U.S. 11, have decided to close their stand after three decades in business. The Liskeys, looking at a picture of the business’ sign, say they had thought about ceasing operations for a couple of years and decided now was the time. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Patsy Liskey shows a photo of the couple’s granddaughters holding a “sold out” sign.
John Liskey, who with wife, Patsy, ran Liskey Sweet Corn stand on U.S. 11, says he believes that part of the stand’s success was because the corn was fresh picked every morning.
John and Patsy Liskey walk in the backyard of their home on Monday.

HARRISONBURG — Before Leonard Moyers goes to Connecticut to visit his son, Matthew, each summer, he stops at a farm just south of Harrisonburg off U.S. 11 to pick up a special delivery.

Like many others from the Valley, Matthew Moyers and his parents developed a taste for Liskey Sweet Corn, his father said.

“He doesn’t think that summer’s here until Liskey’s corn is brought up to him,” Leonard Moyers said.

Unfortunately for the Moyerses and countless other loyal Liskey customers, John and Patsy Liskey, both 72, have decided to close their sweet corn stand after about three decades in business.

“I haven’t told him yet,” Leonard Moyers said of his son. “I’m afraid to do that.”

Patsy Liskey announced the couple’s decision on Liskey Sweet Corn’s Facebook page last week, prompting bittersweet responses from customers who are sad to see it go yet grateful to the Liskeys.

“Happy for you but sad for me!” one commenter said.

Liskey Sweet Corn was open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The corn was fresh picked every morning, John Liskey said, because he wouldn’t sell leftovers.

He believes that was part of the key to the stand’s success over the years.

Some days, the corn sold out.

In recent years, when it didn’t sell out, the surplus was donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

The Liskeys probably would not have had any trouble in continuing to operate their stand, at least on the demand side of the equation.

But as one loyal customer put it, all good things must come to an end.

The Liskeys, who ran the corn stand with their son, John Jr., say they had thought about ceasing operations for a couple of years and decided now was the time.

John Liskey said he would still have plenty to keep him busy between volunteering at church and with the Ruritans, and with other investments and farming operations.

The corn stand, he says, was far more labor intensive than simply standing by the side of the road taking money.

“Before harvest comes you’re in the field at night a lot,” he said. “It’s not an automatic thing, you push a button on your smartphone and it’s done.”

The time and energy yielded exceptional results, the Liskeys and customers say.

“It was like a child to him,” said longtime friend Eugene Wenger, who has helped at the stand for the past several years in exchange for corn. “He wanted to make sure it was the best it could be for the customers.”

The stand has become a local institution, but it wasn’t a planned venture.

The Liskeys’ daughter, Natalie, told her parents one day in 1984 that she was going to take a wheelbarrow of surplus corn from the family’s garden to sell in front of their house on U.S. 11.

“It wasn’t long before she hollered, ‘Daddy, Daddy. Go get me more corn — I can sell this,’” John Liskey recalled.

After the success of the first summer, Liskey, a beef-cattle farmer, decided to plant 12 rows of corn the next year.

It was again a success, so he planted more corn the next year.

Eventually, at the peak of operations, he planted 35 acres of corn and needed two dozen pickers to harvest it.

Popular varieties include honey select and providence.

“People have come many, many miles to get the corn, which is astounding to me,” Patsy Liskey said, recalling one regular customer who made a trip from Virginia Beach each year.

While the Liskeys are looking forward to having a little more time without running the stand, they say they will miss the people they’ve worked with over the years.

“It’s agonizing,” Patsy Liskey said, “because we see a lot of people, have a lot of good, loyal customers — friends, strangers, people driving by … that’s what I’m going to miss.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com

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