The local food movement continues to thrive and expand in our communities. Growing wheat in Hardwick in recent years has been both a fulfilling family and community activity that works well with our farmland.
In 2010, Stan came up with the hobby idea of “The 1000 yard beer project” where all the ingredients would be sourced near our house. I had already thriving hop vines and he decided to grow a field of barley. The barley plants ended up looking awful at harvest time and so the crop was abandoned for the wild turkeys to eat. However, our interest in grain growing was firmly planted. From many conversations we understood that if we could produce grain, then our local community would support us with markets.
Next year’s effort led to growing barley as well as the ancient grains, Emmer and Red Fife. For our first harvest we dried a wagon load of scythed wheat and then stuffed this in large burlap bags. With friends, we beat the bags hard with nunchucks and then poured out the contents in front of a powerful fan to blow away the chaff from the heavier seed. We ended up with a yield of 50 pounds of wheat from having planted 50 pounds amount of seed. This was an entertaining learning experience with lots of beer drinking.
We realized that growing wheat is as easy as growing grass. After growing wheat, we return the field to pasture for our grazing animals for at least three years to build up fertility and reduce weed pressures. With our wheat field rotation, there is little worry weeds that can diminish yields and taint the grain quality in terms of taste and purity.
As my family became more ambitious with growing grains, we understood that we needed more practical methods for threshing and winnowing. Our next step in 2012 was to attend University of Vermont sponsored grain growing events. We toured Ben Gleason’s wheat fields and milling operation and decided to follow the model of his small scale one man operation. His hard red winter wheat variety bread in Canada, Redeemer, ranks high in taste tests.
For harvesting and threshing we bought a small-scale combine for rice and wheat from China. For winnowing, Stan bought a 100 year old clipper mill from Kansas. My college son majoring in engineering took ownership of making the equipment completely functional. We were thrilled when our Redeemer wheat tested at the UVM Grain Laboratory as a high quality crop in September 2012. With some trepidation, we offered a sample to Glenn Mitchell at Rose32 Bakery in Gilbertville. We were ecstatic with his positive feedback and strong encouragement. We have a great relationship with bakers, that continues to expand.
For 2015, we produced 8000 pounds of Redeemer wheat. We used a renovated 1955 Allis Chambers combine to bring the entire crop in on one day before a thunderstorm. For 2014, the weather was ideal and I captured many videos during the day's harvest that are on Youtube.
I bring a grain mill to farmers markets in Hardwick and Hubbardston and grind fresh flour in front of customers. Packages of our flour, wheat berries, and cracked wheat are sold at the Boston Public Market by the Stillman’s Farm.
My oldest son built a timber frame structure with the use of his sawmill to house an Austrian manufactured Osttiroler Getreidemühlen stone mill. This mill makes it possible for us to supply larger volumes of high quality flour to bakeries like Rose32. A large sifter bolted to the floor from North Carolina will be used to remove bran to make pastry flour. Our new mill has the potential to offer the farming community, a means to offer more products such as corn and bean flour. Here is a Youtube link showing videos of our 100 year old clipper mill cleaning the wheat crop.
As of late January 2016, the Osttiroler Getreidemühlen stone mill became functional with the expertise and hands on help from Ben Lester. Ben is the founder the Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA. We are very impressed by the fineness and fragrance of the flour. We hope to be packaging this soon for our customers. We anticipate the new mill will make our wheat berry supply disappear quickly. Let's hope for a great new grain crop in July 2016. We will have more stories and photos to share. Here is the text of a talk presented by Abbie on January 24, 2016,
In summary, growing wheat has been a truly meaningful family farming activity that has helped to strengthen our ties to our community and to the local food movement. We look forward to making this venture a full-time retirement activity and a lasting family legacy.
Wisdom has been with us throughout the ages. There is a fascinating book published in 1917 titled 'Food Preparedness written by Dr. Albert Philip Sy. This can be listened to at Librivox.org or downloaded for free. Here is a fascinating gem about wheat. "On account of a desire to have our bread as white as possible and also because of ignorance in the matter of nutritive values, we discard about one-third of the wheat in milling. And this discarded portion includes some of the most valuable parts of the wheat, partiucularly mineral matter, crude fiber, and no doubt some vitamines.The fact that the millers were compelled to "bleach" flour with chemicals shows that the public demanded a flour as white as it was possible to make it. For years, food chemists and dietitians have urged a more complete use of wheat for making flour. Whole wheat flour produces a more nutritive bread, a more natural and complete food ; at the same time much more flour is produced from the same amount of wheat. This lesson has been thoroughly learned by European nations during the last year, and now it is our turn. Let us hope the millers will soon receive government instruction as to the amount of flour that will be expected from a bushel of wheat. The substitution of whole wheat flour for white or "patent" will be a most important step toward health and economy. While waiting for whole wheat flour to become more popular and better appreciated, we are making extensive use of whole wheat products in the form of cereal breakfast foods. Such foods must be classed as the very best because they include all the ingredients put into the wheat-berry by nature; they contain all the mineral matter which plays an important ))art in metabolism ; they contain what is lacking in many other breakfast foods, namely, crude fiber which is an aid to intestinal activity and prevents constipation ; and finally they are never bleached or otherwise chemically treated. By carefully observing the labels on breakfast foods it is a simple matter to pick out whole wheat products."
Our field rotation involves grazing for weed suppression and fertility. The Scottish Blackface, Icelandic, and Border Leicester sheep are shown on November 8, 2012 in the same field that was planted with wheat in 2014.