OCEAN CITY -- Anyone who sees a half-shucked, 11-foot ear of corn please call Dean Hastings. His is missing, and he doesn't think there's another like it in Worcester County.
Mr. Hastings, the proprietor of Hastings' Market on Route 589, outside Ocean City, sells produce raised on his family's local farms. To advertise his wares to cars on nearby U.S. 50, he bought two 11-foot balloons: the ear of corn and a tomato. Friday night, somebody stole the corn.
"They got us," Mr. Hastings said ruefully Saturday. "We came to work this morning, and it was gone. . . . If we didn't have bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all."
Mr. Hastings said he notified the Worcester County Sheriff's Office, the Maryland State Police and his insurance agent. If it doesn't turn up shortly, he said, he'll replace it.
"We plan on getting another corn, but it depends on the insurance company," he said.
Employee Heidi Christian made signs and put them around the large, open-front shed where corn, tomatoes, asparagus, peas, various other vegetables, strawberries, and herbs and flowers, are for sale.
"REWARD for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the theft of our Giant Corn Balloon," the signs say. "Please contact us or the Maryland State Police." Above the sign is a picture of the missing ear.
It's been a bad two weeks for Mr. Hasting's oversized vegetables. Just after Memorial Day, county zoning officials warned him that the balloons fell under the county's complex sign ordinance and that they were too big. Under the rules, a property owner with 600 feet of frontage could have a sign no larger than 100 feet square.
Mr. Hastings protested, and the Worcester County Commissioners amended the ordinance to allow him to keep the vegetable balloons. Under the revised rules adopted Tuesday night, the maximum sign size is 150 square feet.
And the commissioners added this sentence. "The definition of a sign shall not include any site decoration which does not include a . . . marketing message."
Because there are no words on the balloons, apparently they don't fit the definition of a sign.
"The gray area is, when does something other than words mean a message?" said county planner Kelly Shannahan.
A sign, under the Worcester ordinance, is defined as: "Any device designed to inform or attract or having the effect of informing or attracting the attention of persons on or not on the premises on which the device is located."
The corn and tomato fell under the old definition of a sign, but the added sentence exempts them, according to Mr. Shannahan.
But having resolved that problem, Mr. Hastings now finds himself with a new one: finding his corn. Law enforcement agencies have not been able to locate the balloon, which was probably deflated when it was stolen.
For now, the tomato will have to do. But the corn is missed.
"Believe me, I'm heartsick, honey," Mr. Hastings said Saturday evening.