When Next Step Produce began, we felt it needed a mission statement. As you saw on our home page, our chosen mission statement is “Committed to growing excellent vegetables in harmony with nature.” Over the years, many steps have been taken toward realizing this mission. Growing grains is one of these steps. Nature, landscape, in this bio-region is diverse. Diversity is part of this Earth, of life. Diversity is part of a bigger sustainable picture. Growing small grains fits in well with all of this.
Taking on new endeavors means learning new skills. Our combine (a machine that cuts, threshes and pre-cleans grains) is an old historic model (Allis Chalmers All Crop) which was purchased over two years ago. In 2010 we did our first harvesting of small grains and gained some experience. Most of the seeds were then used and planted as cover crops— crops planted not for the intention of consumption but with the intention of protecting the soil from water and wind erosion during the winter months.
In the fall of 2010, we sowed wheat, rye and barley for consumption. And in the spring of 2011 we planted oats. All of these were harvested this summer of 2011. You may wonder why there was such a delay in bringing the grains to market. Well, new skills needed to be learned first. When the grain comes off the combine it still has chaff and potentially other (weed) seeds in it. Our hope to get the grain sufficiently clean with an “air screen cleaner” proved too optimistic. We needed more to get the grain up to par. A second cleaner, working on a different principle, was needed. But first a lot of research needed to happen. But wait!—there are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc., to pick; fields to prepare for fall plantings; all that arugula, salad mix, turnips, etc., to seed. All this takes time, and finding the time among it all to learn new skills took a lot longer than expected. But eventually a decision was made as to what kind of secondary cleaner would be required. We chose a specific gravity separator. After many phone calls, we found a used, size-appropriate gravity separator in North Dakota. It then took one more month for the seller, a busy man himself, to get it ready and to ship—this machine is about 1600 lbs. of metal. Finally, now November, it is hooked up and ready to go.
In the meantime, it’s time for the fall grains for the 2012 season to be planted.
Grain cleaning is a very specialized business, and there are many machines capable of doing very specific things, such as separating long from short kernels, full from shrunken kernels, or round from long. As the situations change, more will be needed.
Grains are often milled into flour. For Next Step Produce to acquire a good mill is another endeavor. We would need to define our expectations of the mill—with what material should the actual milling happen; what temperature rise is acceptable; what preserves the wholesomeness of the grain the most; what capacity; etc.—and then a lot of research would need to happen.
Flour is not the only way to use small grains, however. Look at rice—many people have never used rice flour in their cooking. Wheat, rye, oats and barley can be used in the same manner as rice. It may take a bit longer to cook. It will taste different. But join us in our new endeavor—cooking and eating should be part of a bigger sustainable picture as well.
An easy way to reduce the cooking time for all grains is to pass them through a table-mounted, hand-cranked, roller mill. It is also called a grain flaker mill. We have one on display at market and we highly recommend it. We have had one for over 10 years and we love it—especially our children. It turns wheat berries into cracked wheat for a delicious breakfast porridge (known as cream of wheat). It turns rye berries into cracked rye, which can also be used in a breakfast porridge. It turns oats into beautiful, truly old-fashioned rolled oats. Most important, it’s an easy and fun way to include small children in food preparations. They love it and it connects them. It is a great step in eating wholesome, fresh food.
The packaging we have chosen for our grain line is cellophane. This is cellulose-based (cotton wood) and is therefore biodegradable. Our labels are designed by Peter Nolan, designer, artist and astrologer. If you like his work, would like to know more, or are in need of some design work, he can be reached at email@example.com.