UNDERWOOD, N.D. — Ben Heger is in his freshman year at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D., studying farm management and agronomy. But he’s had five years of experience already running an ag business that helped pay for some of his college while also helping his community.

Ben’s mom, Katie, explains that five years ago, their family began raising sweet corn. They planted it and picked it and offered it in exchange for goodwill offerings at a roadside stand they put up in their driveway about a mile from Underwood, in central North Dakota.

“It was a community hit,” she says.

Ben expressed interest in taking over the project, and Heger says she and her husband encouraged him to go all out. He got a loan to buy a two-row corn planter, studied varieties and soil health and turned the project into his Supervised Agricultural Experience for FFA.

Ben says the project has been profitable three out of five years, but it’s not just him and his family that he’s been thinking about. Each year, Heger has donated at least some of his proceeds to charitable causes in the community.

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During the 2020 season, Ben paid out more than $1,100 to different causes in the community: a family in need, a local peewee football league, FFA and the food pantry. The food pantry also received some donations of corn, Ben says.

His mom says the corn always has been available to people who can’t pay, but most people do donate. And many put in orders for large amounts — 10 to 35 dozen — and have come from as far as 40 miles away. She says several times their driveway was lined with labeled bags of corn, waiting to be picked up. So far as they know, no one ever took any of the money left by corn buyers.

The Hegers also have been careful to make sure they’re not competing with neighbors who also sell sweet corn; they plant later varieties so that the seasons don’t overlap.

Now that Ben has started college, he’s planning to transition the sweet corn business to his younger brother, Chris, a seventh grader. He says he’s looking forward to being a mentor and helping out with the operation when he returns from college for the summer.

The project gave Ben a good view of what he wants for the future. Now he says his dream job would be “anything agriculture,” which may involve returning to the family farm or working an off-farm job in agriculture.

“That would be my absolute dream,” he says.

Katie Heger says the project shows “kids can do amazing things,” and that one shouldn’t underestimate the power of community.

“If people feel it is a project or a cause that is worthy of their money or time, they’re going to step up and participate,” she says.

To learn more about the operation, visit https://www.facebook.com/Growitforwardnd.