Smith Street corn art project is anything but a bumper crop

Boerum Hill’s field of green is awash in a sea of beige.

The corn planted at the corner of Smith and Bergen streets by artist Christina Kelly has gone from bountiful to desiccated — evidence that one of the hottest summers on record has taken its toll on the popular art project, called “Maize Field.”

On Wednesday, as temps soared to 100, Kelly’s wilted stalks were anchored to bone-dry soil, a far cry from the verdant urban oasis that graced the corner just one month ago.

Hopes were high as an elephant’s ear in late May, when Kelly first planned the humble patch. It was expected that some 40 stalks of the rare Gigi Hill Blue Corn, an eight-row flint blue corn from the Iroquois nation, would sprout at the site by August.

Indeed, the crop busted out of the soil like gangbusters, far outpacing a sister garden Kelly planted in Canarsie. At the time, she attributed the success of the Boerum Hill plot to the direct sunlight it received.

But it seems the sunlight has turned this bumper crop into a bust.

Kelly was unavailable for comment at press time, but on her blog, she recounted a conversation with a corn observer who mused that the corner was “too hot” for the plants to thrive.

“The relentless sun from morning to night along with the stones and sidewalk which retain and radiate heat made it hard on the plants,” she wrote. “The garden took off in a flash … but burned brightly and fast. Now it’s winding down early.”

As of last weekend, Kelly said the plot has yielded 12 ears of corn.

Despite the vegetative travails, passersby were unfazed by the machinations of Mother Nature — or by concerns that Kelly’s field of maize has become a field of malaise.

“There’s beauty in everything,” said Robert Edward Franklin.

Area resident Charis Cooper said the plot was simply a victim of a long summer.

“My backyard looks like that,” she said. “It could be weeded, but this doesn’t really bother me.”

The plot stands in an area cultivated by the Marechkawich Indians in the 17th century, and the project aimed to stir thoughts about the nature of change and our ever-morphing relationship to the land. Along with the corn, Kelly planted beans and squash, the so-called “three sisters” of traditional farming, a trio of vegetables that enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

With Tuesday’s 96-degree heat, the summer of 2010 is now the hottest summer on record in New York City, according to the National Weather Service.

But similar high temps across the country haven’t diminished corn yields elsewhere. According to the Southwest Farm Press, U.S. corn growers are on course to set yet another production record this year.

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