For city family, corn along street is life, community

Sean Philip Cotter
  • A family in York City is growing corn in their backyard, front yard, and up and down the sidewalk.

In his mind, Gumercindo Minaya tied his fate to that of his corn.

"When he plants the corn, he (does) it with his faith," said Dolores Minaya, his daughter. "If it grows healthy, he'll keep going."

The 84-year-old resident of York City's Avenues neighborhood has cancer. Gumercindo, who's known as Catarey, recently spent a couple of weeks in New York City getting treatment. On Friday, he looked good, spry, puttering around his backyard among the 6-foot-tall stalks.

Gumercindo Minaya, 84, brought the planting traditions from his home in the Dominican Republic to his home in York City, planting corn all around the Madison Avenue property. Friday, July 29, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

If he's right, his future looks bright: The corn has grown tall and plentiful, as anyone driving past the corner of Madison Avenue and North Hartley Street can see. On Friday afternoon, a sweltering sun beat down on the stalks around their apartment, in the front yard, in the back yard, even along both sides of the sidewalk to the side of the house along Hartley.

"From what I see, it's going to be a lot of years he's stuck with us," his daughter said.

The two of them and Dolores' kids planted the crop in June, at that point just little seeds. Within a few weeks, it was 3 feet tall. Now it's twice that, and many stalks have the telltale red-and-white silk sprouting from the top of what will eventually be corn cobs. Gumercindo said — through his daughter, translating Spanish to English and back for him — that the corn will be ready to pick in about two weeks.

It doesn't surprise Dolores that the crop is doing well.

"Everything he plants does grow up," she said, adding that the corn reminds her of growing up in the Dominican Republic.

Someone else noticed. A man who lives in Manchester Township, up the Susquehanna Trail from the city, saw the corn on Thursday and wanted to know more about it. He has a good bit of land, Dolores said, and wanted to know if Gumercindo could plant it.

Of course, they told him. The man was to pick Gumercindo up on Saturday to check it out.

"He said: 'I want this in my backyard,'" Dolores said. The man told Gumercindo the 84-year-old can take a portion of the yield for himself, to sell or do whatever he wants with.

Gumercindo is glad to do this — maybe even a little too glad for Dolores' taste. She loves their garden and the fact it makes him happy, but, she said, she has to remind him all the time he has to take it easy with gardening when it's really hot out.

But it's hard to keep him away from the corn.

And it's more than just corn in their backyard  — they've planted string beans, kidney beans, peppers and tomatoes. Intertwined are the odd pumpkin, sunflower and melon.

The tomatoes will be ready very soon, it seemed on Friday, so Dolores was excited for them.

What's she going to make?

"Salad — fresh salad, boy," she said, smiling.

Many of the kidney beans were ready Friday; Dolores said she expected to make a thick soup with those Sunday, when they would be celebrating Dominican Father's Day.

Steve Buffington, York City's deputy director of permits, planning and zoning, told The York Dispatch that despite the fact he's had calls complaining about the corn, nothing forbids them from growing it — and he's glad, because he kind of likes it, he said.

"If it grew to the point where it was obstructing someone’s vision, then we’d have to do something about it," he said. As long as drivers can see around corners and it's not blocking the sidewalk, "nothing prohibits it," Buffington added.

Dolores Minaya said she hasn't heard complaints from the neighbors, and her father has maintained it so it stays off the sidewalk and away from the intersections. People get a kick out of it — especially young people, she said, and they often ask if they can have some corn when it's ready to be picked.

The answer is always yes.

"The corn is bringing people together," Dolores said, beaming.

Just a few days ago, she said, a few teenagers came up to her, wondering what was going on — what are the 6-foot-tall leafy stalks lining the sidewalk?

They were surprised when she told them it was corn.

"'I have never seen corn growing,'" she said they told her. Their only experiences with the vegetable had been at the grocery store.

Dolores was grateful to the city for letting them keep the corn — in part, she said, because it'll get young people interested in growing food for themselves, she hopes.

"They can do magic in the backyard," she said.

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.