Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More Thoughts on Small Scale Small Grains...

After yesterdays post, where I mentioned my interest in raising small, and the comments that followed I decided I would try and do a little research into small scale small grain farming. What I found was ... NOT MUCH. Of course Gene Logsdon wrote a book quite awhile ago specifically on this topic, "Small-Scale Grain Raising", but it is out of print and is really expensive. I am going to see if I can check it out via inter-library loan, but for now I did find an article from ATTRA. The article titled, "Organic Small Grain Production" wasn't exactly what I was looking for, and dealt more with a larger scale production than I was thinking of. But, in that article I did find a link to another ARRTA publication titled, "Marketing Organic Grains".

Both of these articles had a large focus on certified organic production methods, but I did find the marketing article interesting. The article mentions that the organic grain markets have a tendency to go up and down (sounds like the conventional markets), but are around twice the price most of the time. But, I am specifically thinking about value-added grain products. If I was going to sell to larger organic grain buyers I would have to produce a large quantity and a highly consistent grain, but what if I wasn't selling the raw materials?

Here are some thoughts that I had. I do not know all of the details that would go into them as far as governmental regulations and I know a certified kitchen would be needed for some of the baked goods, but I think it is something to consider. If I could take a small plot of grain and turn it into consumer consumables and even possible animal food I think it would be an interesting venture.

Things that I have thought about:

-Selling freshly ground wheat flour at local farmers markets or from the farm.

-Selling homegrown corn meal in the same locations as above.

-Using the wheat flour to bake value-added products such as breads, cinnamon rolls, and other baked goods.

-Even possibly producing organic animal feeds.


I would love to hear from anyone who have thoughts on the subject of small grains or marketing them. Also, I have always thought that multiple minds were better than one or in this case multiple internet searches are better than one ... So, if you have run across any good articles, forum posts, blogs, etc. dealing with raising small grains on a small scale I would love to check them out. I'm not sure if I will ever give the small grain idea shot, but I think it is important to explore as many farm marketing opportunities as I can.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read this in "The Wooden Spoon Bread Book" by Marilyn M. Moore: Flour needs to be aged before it can be used. Years ago, before large scale industry, bakers needed to toast their new flour (or freshly ground) in their ovens before they could bake with it. If they did not do this, the product would be heavy and gummy, because of the excess moisture in the flour. I'm paraphrasing, but the idea is the same. I can attest to the truth of this because a friend of mine owns a grain mill. She was so pleased to be able to buy grain and make ultra-fresh bread. Unfortunately, neither of us knew at the time about aging flour, so the bread (a cinnamon tea bread) was... kind of like a pudding. In the middle. Or maybe like paste. Either way, the edges were okay. My husband ate it, which isn't really saying a lot. ;) Now I must say that if your wife enjoys baking she should check out this book. I've learned a lot from it, one thing is that making bread by hand, sans machine is both rewarding and better tasting! Good luck with all you do... Heather

Rich said...

I first learned about heritage wheats about a year ago after watching an episode of "Prairie Farm Report" on the RFD-TV channel that profiled an organic wheat producer in Canada that was growing the 'Red Fife' variety on about 12 acres. He was harvesting about 60 bu/ac and selling it to bakeries for about $20/bu, which immediately caught my attention!

His family operated a bed and breakfast, and were partners in an artesian bakery. He was involved in the ‘Heritage Wheat Project’ in Canada to revive historic varieties of wheat. He was able to combine each aspect of his operation, bed and breakfast customers were exposed to historic farming methods, the wheat flour was used to make artesian breads, bakery customers were exposed to his bed and breakfast, etc.

I haven't found much about heritage wheat in the U.S., but it might just be because something like Canada's ‘Heritage Wheat Project’ hasn't been created in the U.S. yet.

http://www.grassrootsolutions.com/index.php/heritage-wheat/

Steven said...

My wife visited the people at www.greensgarden.com to learn some about organic gardening. They run an organic foods store that used to be a feed store. She said that they mill their own grain so, they might be good to contact. I don't know if they grow any themselves.

sugarcreekfarm said...

You've probably already heard of Paul's Grains in Laurel. They might be a good resource for you.

Ethan Book said...

Heather - That is interesting you mention baking the flour. I bought a grain mill for me wife this Christmas and she uses it for our bread. She grinds her flour right before she bakes and hasn't had a problem with what you described. I'll have to ask her about it and let her know about the book ... Thanks! :)

Rich - thanks for that great information ... I can see why it caught your attention with numbers like that! I'm going to check out that link and keep searching.

Steven - thanks for the link. I would love to see where they get their grain from and see exactly what they are doing.

Kelli - No I haven't heard of them yet. Thanks for letting me know! They look like the kind of people I need to get in contact with.

Steven said...

We're getting ready to plant a garden soon and I was wondering if there were any "garden maps" of some sort online that would help you decide how to lay it out. It's hard to decide what to put where and it would be nice to have something to start from.

Any ideas?

Rich said...

steven - are you talking about the proper rotation order?

Biodynamic gardening might be what you are thinking about. There are supposedly benefits to certain crop rotations and planting methods. Potatoes need to follow corn and/or have leaf mold applied, strawberries derive a benefit from pine straw mulch, mulching with alfalfa hay has beneficial results for tomatoes, etc.

Eliot Coleman has written a couple of books including "The New Organic Gardener" about which contain some information about rotations.

Steven said...

I have heard tid-bits about certain plants helping others in the garden and figured that it was best to plant this close to that, etc. So yeah, that sounds like what I was asking. Also, it's just hard to start with a bare rectangle and know where it would be best to plant things, how far apart, how much room we'll need to walk between things, etc.... There's probably a basic gardening book that would have some layouts to get us thinking.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - I'm not the resident gardener in the family ... but, I let my wife know about your question and I think she is going to look up a couple of things. I know she did a lot of research on companion gardening last year (what you were talking about) and took some time to plan out the garden.

We'll see what she can come up with.

Mellifera said...

Ethan- I totally have Small-Scale Grain Raising! Um, if you want to come down to Florida sometime you can read it. : )

I haven't made too much headway into it (mostly just skimming), but I can look up some things if you'd like/go through it and look for interesting stuff. For what it's worth, he wrote it back in the 70's or early '80s before he got terribly contrary, so it's not quite as much fun or crazy original as some of his later stuff. A lot of "This is broom corn. You can make brooms with it" type stuff. Still good though.

Anonymous said...

I know that I would LOVE to be able to buy local wheat flour at my local farmer's market, but I'm all the way over in Illinois, so I don't think I can convince you to sell to mine.

--Sarah

Bradley Barnyard Beginnings said...

I dont' know anything about small grains, sorry. I do however have a great book for Steven. It's called the The Vegetable Gardners Bible. It has alot of VERY useful information in it about companion gardening. We got our copy at the local library. Good Luck!

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Steven-
I tried to dig up some of the good sites I have come across for garden planning. I picked out some that I hope will be of help to you.

Here is a site with some simple vegetable gardening tips:
Tips


This one has a nice chart of companion plants that includes flowers and herbs:
companions

This is also a nice chart on companion planting. It just has vegetables, but it includes bad companions:
more companions

This site has a good chart on how to rotate vegetables to avoid diseases:
rotation

Just some personal thoughts:
For bed rotation, there are a number of ways to divide up your garden. A lot of people will suggest quadrants for ease of keeping track of rotation. You can also do 4 sections in strips of you prefer having long rows of vegetables. I actually have what people would consider 5 sections to my garden. At one end of my garden I have perennials. This is where I have my strawberries, rhubarb, lilies, and some other perennial flowers that I don't have a place for yet. This section is permanent and then I rotate the rest of my garden around.

Companion planting is great for pest/disease control, but it is also a great space saver. Some vegetables can be planted right in other vegetables "personal space". I wish I had a site to show you this. Since they mature at different times, you can use the same space for a variety of plants.

Here is an example:
Last year I planted my peas along a fence. I also planted lettuce and cucumbers within inches of my row of peas. The peas grew up while the lettuce stayed low. Some will say that the peas will produce some shade for the lettuce which will make it last a bit longer in the season. The lettuce was ready to pull by the time the peas started coming on, which allowed the peas to have the most moisture available. The cucumbers don't take that much moisture since they are just a few plants. When the peas are finished, the cucumbers can be trained up the peas' fence to keep the cucumbers nice. By the time the cucumbers are done, you can pull them and plant another crop of fall peas and fall lettuce in that same spot.

As far as book recommendations, I just got a really nice book from my brother for Christmas. You can read my review of it on my blog at this link

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Heather -
I just got a grain mill for Christmas and have been grinding my own wheat flour. I was having troubles with my bread, but yesterday I went over to a friend's house who has the same mill and mixer I do. (You can see them on my blog here.) She showed me some tricks, and her bread came out beautiful! We even used the wheat that we had ground just minutes before.

Basically, you don't go by measurements of flour, but you go by the consistency of the dough. Depending on the wheat berries, the humidity, and even the pressure for the day, some days you use more flour and some days less to account for the differences in moisture.

I was really quite amazed and so thankful she showed me her tricks. I never would have figured it out on my own. I even ground up some wheat and made two loaves of bread tonight at my own house that turned out great!

Hmmm . . . maybe some on farm baking/cooking workshops might interest some people.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear you haven't had any lingering problems with your baking. After doing some more research, I am wondering if my friend used a different kind of wheat berry, or perhaps measured her wet ingredients incorrectly. She has five kids (the oldest is 7) so... I'm sure you can imagine how easy it would be to add an extra egg or over measure the oil/milk. :) I still recommend the book though, as Ms. Moore has some interesting recipes, as well as ways to use up leftover/stale bread. :)
~ Heather

Mellifera said...

I saw an "artisan bread baking" book once that had the most brilliant idea for helping your dough stay the right consistency.

...Instead of kneading it on a big pad of flour to keep it from sticking on the counter, use a little spray of oil instead! Duh! I was all excited about that one, I have the tendency to get too much flour in the dough and it sticks to the counter anyway.

Anonymous said...

I live in mid-Michigan, and we have sucessfully grown hard white spring wheat, kamut, flax, hard red winter wheat, and open-pollinated corn on a very small scale. One field is 80x100' and the other is about 60x90'.

I have a small push grain-planter which plants one row at a time. I plant wheat in rows one foot apart so I can easily cultivate during the first part of the growing season. Once the wheat is well-established the need for cultivation lessens.

I'm still working on an efficient way to harvest. I have a friend with a walk-behind sickle mower, then I pick it up and put it in a hay wagon and let it dry down for a couple of weeks under shelter. Then I run it through a small hammermill to thrash it out. While thrashing I use a fan to blow away most of the chaff. Then I run the wheat through an old seed & grain cleaner.

I would like to figure out a way to harvest just the heads so I don't have all the straw to deal with during thrashing.

I grow it for our own use, and my wife grinds it in an impact mill and makes bread and other baked goods with it.

We have found that we prefer the hard white spring wheat for making bread because it makes a lighter loaf than the hard red winter wheat.

I plant flax the same way I do the wheat. So far I've used an electric hedge trimmer for harvesting the flax. I let it dry as I do the wheat, but I do NOT run it through the hammermill as it will turn the stems into fiber. (Ask me how I know this!)

Instead, I rigged up a system using several rollers and a treadmill belt. It crushes the pod releasing the flax and removing the stems. Then I run the flax seed & fines through the grain cleaner.

We eat it ground up on homemade toast with butter and honey. ground up & sprinkled on salads or ground up and made into muffins. We only grind a small amount at a time in a coffee grinder then keep it refrigerated til used up.

Hope this information is helpful.
This is a good discussion, and I look forward to more information!
Enjoy your blog very much - thanks for all the time and work you put into it!

John

Ethan Book said...

John - Thanks for the GREAT information. That was a lot of help and gives me a better idea of what is possible. I would be interested in know if you do any sort of rotation with your various crops even though it is on a small scale.

Again, thanks for reading the blog and giving such wonderful insight!

Rich said...

The book One Straw Revolution by M. Fukuoka details methods of natural farming that includes the growing of cereal crops like rice and barley and might have some suggestions for harvesting smaller fields of cereal grains.

It is out of print but a copy can be downloaded at:

http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/
01aglibwelcome.html

You might also be interested in the bed-planting method of planting wheat detailed at:

http://www.bedplanting.okstate.edu/index.html

It seems like it might be easily adaptable to a small scale wheat growing endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Ethan,

Yes, I do rotate corn, flax, wheat and potatoes.

John

Steven said...

This weekend I was able to visit Greens Garden ( www.greensgarden.com ) and it was very cool! It's an old feed and seed store that was vacant for a few years and this family bought it and turned it into an organic/healthy foods store, also selling seed, feed, rabbits, and teaching classes on cooking, gardening, etc.

I didn't realize it until we were driving away, but we had stayed there for 3 hours! We got some seed potatoes, chocolate chip cookies (whole grain), eggs, and freshly ground flour. I actually spoke to the owner about this blog post. He said he wants someone local to start growing organic grains for him but hasn't found anyone willing to. He's having all his wheat, corn, etc. shipped in. I think he said he's giving 11/bushel for corn!

We then went to www.familyfriendlyfarm.com and got some raw milk for the first time. Last night we made butter!

Mellifera said...

Rich,

Thanks for the soilandhealth link! Good articles.

Interesting idea with the bed planting. I'm wondering how if it would adapt well to smaller-scale growing (What kind of dirt-moving equipment does it take?). And wanting to plant clover or something in between the beds. Bare... dirt... keyptonite... must... cover...

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Steven - Sounds like a pretty good day! After checking out the Green's Garden website I think I'll contact them about some of the stuff they do. I've been thinking about stuff they are doing lately and would be interested learning more. Thanks for posting the links!

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

That last comment was really from my husband . . . I used his computer last night and it must have stayed logged in as me. Sorry for the confusion!

Rich said...

Mellifera -

Depending on how small scale you are talking about you could only need a shovel, spading fork, and a rake, on up to a rototiller.

Don't forget that for thousands of years mankind was able to grow agricultural crops with little more than a sharp stick or a handmade hoe.

If you are interested , read about Buffalo Bird Woman and native-American farming methods at:

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/
women/buffalo/garden/garden.html

Ridesabikealot said...

FYI I found a copy of Logsdon's 'Small-scale Grain Raising' (referred to elsewhere in the blog comments) available online at the Soil and Health Library - http://www.soilandhealth.org/ . A lot of other useful stuff there too. This is an online library of out of print, public domain or donated titles to do with agriculture, self-sufficiency, health and so on. You can download for free, but to be fair to the provider, may I recommend making the small, one-time donation needed, to join?

Ethan Book said...

ridesabikealot - Thanks for that find! I will have to check it out...

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