It almost hurts to share this Checkout Line column from Grist about popcorn, but I am compelled to do so by my own love of popcorn, the title of my blog, and my thesis topic from grad school. (One of my first steps in the new era of responsibility. It feels good despite it's depressing nature.)
Lou Bendrick takes a good look at conventional popcorn - mostly the microwave stuff since that's what most people eat - and it's not pretty. (I've posted a photo of the popcorn I grow to balance out the ugliness with some of the grains natural beauty. Refresh yourself as needed.) The grain is most likely genetically modified and not grown organically (unless it otherwise states), the butter flavoring might taste good but is undoubtedly not good for you, and the packaging is not good for the planet.
I grow my own organic popcorn using a combination of seeds - Tom Thumb, a small yellow variety; Strawberry, a small red variety that can often also be found at Farmer's Markets for eating or decorating; and Thanksgiving, an heirloom brown variety offered by Project Grow that gives up good size cobs with caramel-colored seeds. If we weren't moving to Japan, I'd add Blue to my list to see what happens.
Corn plants need other corn plants nearby in order to produce. Michael Pollan gives perhaps the best explanation of this process I've ever read in his book Omnivore's Dillemma, but suffice it to say that corn has male and female parts - tassle and silk, respectively - and that the pollen must go between them (cue the bees and the wind) on different plants to bring the ears we love to eat. (A more detailed explanation of the corn growing process is also offered by the National Gardening Association.)
In my garden I plant a double row and intersperse the corn seeds with beans and nasturtiums. Down the center I have put in winter squash, but did not this year due to a major infestation of squash bugs two years ago. A neighbor plants corn in his fields that are on both sides of our property, so that helps with pollination, too. (I am sure he plants genetically modified corn, but for whatever it's worth I take solace in the idea that my garden is chemical free and an oasis for those critters that need it and help with pollination.)
I consistently get a good harvest, and the cobs are a jaw-dropping mix of colors. Once I can't dent the kernals with my fingernail the cobs are ready for harvest. I pull back the dried husk, but leave it attached. I remove the silk, and then bunch the ears for hanging. (The husk is helpful for this process.) I let them hang until they are dry or I remember that I need to finish that project. I get about two to three quarts of popcorn (dried and de-cobbed) per year.
It pops up smaller but very consistently, and is incredibly tasty. We make it in an oil popper or on the stove. (I don't believe in hot air poppers. If I wanted to eat cardboard I'd go to the recycling bin.) We use olive oil, and then serve it up topped with soy sauce and nutritional yeast. I may need to whip some up now...