Published Jul 6 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jul 6 2009

Grains and how we get them - July 12

by Staff

This article highlights several important issues. One is that local fruit and veg isn't going to save us. Most of our calories come from grains. Therefore we have to figure out how to grow, process, and transport grains more sustainably. Growing wheat organically and reviving the local supply chain infrastructure in Oregon looks to be a good start. KS

From grass to grains

Carla A. Wise, High Country News

The storage sheds, combines, trucks and pesticide tanks on Harry Stalford's grass-seed farm suggest a standard farming operation. With his ruddy cheeks and farmer's ball cap, Stalford looks pretty typical, too. But looks can be deceiving. Stalford and his wife, Willow Coberly, have begun a pioneering experiment on part of their 9,000-acre Willamette Valley spread.

The couple owns the first large conventional farm to join the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project, a movement to rebuild and re-localize the entire food system in Oregon's most productive farming region. Instead of focusing exclusively on expensive specialty foods — the fruits, meats and vegetables found at local farmers' markets and restaurants — the project aims to organically grow and locally sell the grains and beans that are the foundation of most diets. Eventually, project members hope that all the food consumed here will be local. And they say that the Willamette Valley's 900,000 acres of cropland are more than adequate to feed its 2.5 million residents, including Portland.

...The seeds for the project were planted several years ago when farmer and food activist Harry MacCormack bought a bunch of beans and grains from the bulk bins in the Corvallis co-op and successfully grew many of them on his 15-acre organic farm. Further experiments and discussion eventually led MacCormack, Stalford, Coberly and others to found the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project in January 2008. It has grown since: Participants now include other organic farmers, community activists, two food security groups, a USDA Farm Services director, an Extension horticulturalist and others. In 2008, MacCormack and five homestead-size farms grew nine varieties of beans and more than a dozen grains. Stalford and Coberly planted 100 acres of five types of beans, and produced a successful harvest of organic hard red wheat. And both Stalford and MacCormack were able to sell everything they grew.

...Still, demand alone isn't enough to turn large-scale grass-seed farms into food producers. With the economy in the tank, conventional farmers want to diversify and stabilize their income. But they're also wary of change. That means Stalford — a leader in the grass-seed industry — is key. If he can make it work, says his friend, Sherri Falk, a longtime grass-seed grower, others will likely follow.

...The increased production, however, raises an infrastructure problem. Hummingbird Wholesale and the Corvallis co-op are committed to buying local beans and grains, but the storage and processing systems have to be rebuilt. Project organizers need businesses interested in developing storage, processing and distribution for local food. The Ten Rivers Food Web, a local food nonprofit that MacCormack helped found, recently purchased a portable seed cleaner. The group did a study examining the feasibility of local processing and has applied for more grant money to build a community processing facility.

...A January Bean and Grain meeting in Eugene drew many skeptical grass-seed farmers: Folks with well-worn jeans and work-roughened hands packed the room. Since then, two new Willamette Valley farmers have signed on to grow food for Hummingbird Wholesale this year. One, a large grass-seed farmer, will plant 20 acres of organic pumpkin seeds. The other will grow three or four acres of organic flax seed. Despite the battered economy, demand for bulk organic foods is up, Tilt says. MacCormack says the main obstacles remain mind-set and infrastructure. And, he says, those are obstacles that can be overcome. 

Carla A. Wise is a conservation biologist and environmental writer based in Corvallis, Oregon.

(4 May 2009)

Gene Logsdon's 2nd edition of his classic book Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers looks to be an extremely useful resource for people who are interested in producing grains and bread on a smaller scale.

Time to Start Growing Your Own Bread

Gene Logsdon, Organic to Be

No sooner had the news come out that rice stocks worldwide were at an all time modern low, and that the price of wheat had hit historic highs, when I started getting calls and letters from all over. Modern homesteaders wanted to know where they could get a copy of my old book, Small Scale Grain Raising.

It is gratifying to know there are still Americans who, instead of wringing their hands at a possible problem headed their way, start figuring what to do about it. I only wish I had some copies of that book left. It was published in 1977 and was as high as $300 a crack on the Internet. But I am happy to report that a new edition is now available.

I don’t really know if the high grain prices have anything to do with renewed interest in that book. What seems to me more likely is that self-reliant people are taking a look at what is happening in our financial world and wondering if it is time to plow up the backyard or that old horse lot and plant some food.

In my little world of writing books about rural life and culture, this is all the talk right now, as it was in 1973, 1982, and 1995 when the economy did “readjustments” like it is doing now, only not quite so profoundly. (In an economy ruled by interest on “pretend” money, as I call it, about every ten years there has to be a shakeup to bring the dreamers of riches, floating around in their bubbles, back down to earth again.) The idea of growing and threshing out several bushels of wheat (a bushel makes about 50-60 loaves of bread) in the backyard makes sense to self-reliant people. It isn’t really that difficult to do.

...I can remember when wheat was still ground into flour in mills in our county. It just beats me that in places burgeoning with grain like this area, that those local mills could not remain profitable. Did people just quit baking at home in the 1950s? Looks to me like home bread-making is on the rise (oh those puns) again, especially now with all the new kitchen flour mills and bread-makers available.

If you type “local flour mills” into your search engine. I think you will be surprised. There’s quite a few of them all over the U.S. and Canada. While the political pundits and the banking bandits wring their hands and steal our money and then promote rather tasteless mass-produced bread at over two dollars a loaf, there’s still a “grain” of contrariness in many Americans. That’s how we’ve survived so far.
See also Greg’s Making Organic Sourdough Bread Recipe
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.

Gene is author of The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Photo Credit: Katherine Moreland |
Gene’s Posts

East Anglia Food Links has a lot to say on the importance of sustainable grain farming, local bread production, and the best way to produce both (and local isn't always best when it comes to grain farming.)

Resilient Bread Supply Chains

East Anglia Food Links

Bread is the UK's staple food, and the most iconic and resonant of all our foods. Yes our bread supply is amazingly fragile. Felicity Lawrence, in her book Not on the Label, reports that at the time of the fuel blockade in 2000 British supermarkets came within a few hours of having no bread on the shelves.

What would a resilient supply chain for bread look like? It would involve a baker close enough to the consumer that road transport is not needed to get bread from one to the other. The baker would be able to use British flour rather than relying on high-gluten imports. The flour would be milled very close to the baker (or possibly by the baker), so that an uninterrupted supply of flour could be guaranteed. The wheat used to make the flour would be stored in some quantity (and preferably a whole year's supply) sufficiently close to the mill (or baker) that, in the event of a transport breakdown, it could be brought in by barrow. And the techniques used to grow the wheat would be highly resilient techniques, perhaps based on the Composite Cross Populations being developed by the Organic Research Centre.

It will be noted that we are not arguing for on-farm milling of wheat (except perhaps where the farm is adjacent to the bakery). In general it is easier to move wheat than to move flour - wheat is more robust and can be moved by boat if necessary, but this is harder with flour. Similarly it is easier to store wheat than flour, so the best way to keep a supply in a town is to store a quantity of grain in the town and mill it as needed.

More obviously, this is an argument against bakeries which are distant from their customers. While it is easier to move grain than flour, it is easier to move either of those than bread, which is heavier and much bulkier than the flour from which it is made. Also bread has a very short shelf-life and needs to be delivered daily, whereas either wheat or flour can be stored for longer. Already we are seeing village shops starting to struggle to get supplies of fresh bread, because the costs of distributing bread to shops in small batches is becoming disproportionate to the value of the bread. For this reason we are investigating the potential for micro-bakeries at the village level.

There are obvious synergies between this focus on Resilient Supply Chains and the aims of the Real Bread Campaign.

You can read more about Coordinator of East Anglia Food Links Tully Wakeman's workshop (download .doc file) on how to create a Food strand of an Energy Descent Action Plan (presented with Claire Milne) at the 2009 Transition Network Conference and the work of East Anglia Food Links here and here.

Photo credit: flickr/my_amii