Wednesday, 11 November 2009

DIY Wheat

As grain farmers in Saskatchewan struggle through a late harvest, grain farmers on Vancouver Island are celebrating the success of their very first harvest.

Fifty families in and around the town of Duncan participated in a project to grow grains on a small scale. They celebrated their harvest by gathering at a local bakery called True Grain, where they had the opportunity to turn their grains of wheat into flower using the traditional stone mill.

The project is called Island Grains, and was started by Brock McLeod and Heather Walker.

Heather and Brock are new to farming (having just wrapped up their second season) and started growing grains after picking-up a book about small-scale wheat production at a second hand store. After one successful attempt, they decided to share their new knowledge, and build on it, by offering up a chunk of their land to anyone who was interested in trying to grow grains. They also set-up a series of workshops to help people through the process.

In the spirit of experimentation, Island Grains participants grew an array of heritage varieties with varying degrees of success, with different lessons learned. Plots of Red Fife—the first wheat to ever be grown with any success in Canada—grew well, but too tall and with heavy heads. The plants flopped over, and that made them difficult to harvest. Many participants enthusiastically planted an ancient grain called Emmer, which they got to taste at one of the Island Grain workshops. However, the seed variety turned out to be for winter, so plants grew into grasses, but never into full stalks.

One of the participants, Sandy McPherson, harvested a kilogram of Kamut from her plot.

“My husband and I were motivated by our desire to eat more locally,” McPherson says, “but we didn’t work too hard on growing our grains. Every now and then, we’d plan a bike ride to the plot so we could do some weeding.”

Next year, she says, they’ll grow Kamut on their own land, and also attempt Quinoa and Amaranth.

Sarah Simpson says her grain growing experience was anything but easy.

After not weeding for a month, she encountered weeds as tall as herself (5ft). She set to work destroying them, only to be told later by Brock that she’d, “weeded her plot to death.”

At the end of the season, Simpson harvested enough wheat for just one loaf of bread. Still, she says she had fun, and is going to try again next year.

Brock and Heather don’t know how much grain was produced on the collective plot, but if the yield resembled their plot of the same size, it would have produced some 500lbs of grain.

Note: One pound of grain produces, on average, two loaves of bread.


Loren said...

Meribeth. Good one. Thanks for sharing it. Reminds me of some storytelling ideas I've been thinking about. Thanks, Loren

Rick Juliusson said...

As one of the Island Grains participants, I can attest that it was a great, inspiring experiment that will enable many many of us to grow many many loaves-worth of grains. Not only bread, but oatmeal, quinoia, etc etc. Come back next year and see the fields of grains in my own backyard.

rakeeem said...

The producer of Pandemerbium did a good job in publishing this story :-) It is nice to see such a community gathering to grow grains and the joy and party spirit while milling.
It reminded me childhood memories from Morocco.

Thanks to the writer, one day it will pay.

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