Friday was a tough one for Robert Hewett. Virtually by himself, he says he hand-picked and then sold almost 1,800 ears of sweet corn, all of it to passersby who'd spotted the spray-painted Corn-For-Sale sign in front of his Loudoun County farm.

"I don't think I could take that again," says Hewett, 49, with a laugh. "We had to cover up the sign because we'd run out."

While the country is facing tough economic times, Hewett is finding that the simple life can be as sweet as his corn. And that's pretty darn good, considering that Hewett is a full-time accountant who has only been farming part time for a little more than a year.

Hewett dismisses that with a shy chuckle. "I grew up on a farm," he explains, noting that his father owned a ranch near Dallas and raised cotton, corn and livestock. "I guess I'm reliving my childhood."

Even so, back in 1981 when Hewett and his wife got the chance to buy the 17 acres they now own near Waterford, 30 growing seasons had come and gone since he'd last had any dirt-under-the-fingernails farming experience. And while he had worked for the Agriculture Department as a senior financial official charged with monitoring certain farm programs and managed a farm or two for absentee landlords, you might say he was a little rusty.

That didn't faze him in the slightest.

"I guess I've always had it," he says. "You can take the boy off the farm but you can never take the farm out of the boy."

But the saying also goes that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. And that, when applied to his family, explains in part why it took so long for him to get back to the dirt.

"Martha his wife grew up in row houses in . . . Louisville where houses are right up against each other," he says. " . . . When we came to Washington in 1972 , I wanted to move out to the outskirts but she didn't think much of the idea."

But in recent years, Hewett found himself managing some area farms for absentee landlords. And more and more frequently, he found his wife accompanying him on his visits to the farms. That was all it took.

"You couldn't get her in any kind of subdivision now," he says. "She's great with animals. She talks to 'em all the time, and the veterinarian says they all talk back to her."

Now, when he isn't running his Leesburg accounting business, he, his wife and his youngest son, 9-year-old Robert Jr., raise on his 17 acres, plus another 107 he rents, the sweet corn he sells at roadside for $1.50 a dozen, field corn, vegetables (for home consumption) and 20 head of cattle--for individuals who want high quality, grain-fed beef at below supermarket prices.

"I get more customers than I can handle," he says. "They come faster than I can pick" the corn.

And if that isn't satisfaction enough, many of the customers want to know how they can do the same thing. He'll gladly tell them, he says, but in the end the trouble is "most aren't willing to make the sacrifice in time."

Eventually, Hewett says, he wants to get out of accounting altogether.

"My long-term goal has always been to stop having to work outside the home by age 55 and concentrate on the personal life. I don't know that we'll make that goal in these economic times. But I'm sure trying."