With frost on the grass this morning I guess it’s official...summer is over. That also means we are long overdue to report on some of the fantastic field trips we had the pleasure of taking this season!
Paul Spence (Dresden, Ontario)
First up was the open skies and endless fields of Dresden Ontario, where we had the opportunity to attend a Heritage Grain Field day organized by Everdale (everdale.org) and the Bauta Family Initiative for Canadian Seed Security (seedsecurity.ca).
Heritage grain farmer Paul Spence took us through his experimental plots of heritage wheats, corn and some very tasty looking beans. Paul initially began experimenting with heritage grain looking to grow better feed for his animals. He raises pigs and wanted to improve his stock and give chefs the best tasting product possible.
But he quickly realized that in addition to better tasting pork, his chefs were interested in the varied and diverse grains and legumes for their own menus. Now he sees his endeavour in a broader way, improving the diversity, flavour and security of our North American food system.
Paul’s projects are still in the “experimental” phase and much of the land he was growing on was donated by friendly and supportive farmers of the Dresden area who deserve some thanks and respect, specifically Joe at Riverbell and Leia at Weaver Farms.
Sam Mudge (Lincolnville, Maine)
In August I had the pleasure of heading to the Grange Corner Farm in Lincolnville, Maine to meet with heritage grain farmer Sam Mudge. Like Paul Spence, the Mudge family has a tradition of raising animals. Tucked in among the stunningly beautiful Camden hills, Sam has converted a few old pastures into plots of spelt, rye, Warthog wheat, Red Fife and a few other grains.
Sam’s plots were significantly bigger than Paul's (although ridiculously small compared to "regular" wheat plots) but he still considers himself in the experimental stage. He’s currently selling some at farmers markets and building up his own seed stock to a critical mass where he has enough to plant, sell and save for the next season.
Two different countries, landscapes and farmers and yet they both were experiencing similar issues. When asked about their challenges both farmers had one item at the top of their list: equipment. While they had both managed to find heritage seed, receptive chefs and markets, and lots of good will, there is a real critical issue of sourcing small scale, affordable and *working* equipment. From harvesting, de-hulling, cleaning, even small-to-medium scale storage—these all require specialized equipment.
However, farming is mostly either an industrial or home scale endeavour these days. And the equipment currently produced reflects that. It is either laughably large (designed for mono-crop megafarms) or woefully inadequate (designed for a home gardener/hobbyist.) There just isn't enough of a market out there of small scale operations to motivate equipment manufacturers to dedicate R&D to develop affordable small scale machines.
It's a common problem for the small-mid sized food business whether farmer or artisan. Almost everybody has to dance with the industrial food chain at some point. It took us years to find our current oat-roller. We've talked with craft brewers who want to malt their own grains-- but the equipment just isn't there.
These farmers have turned to scouring antique shops, old barns and internet forums in the hopes of finding some working pre-industrial equipment. Until then they are going to have to beg, borrow and wait in line for those few pieces that are out there.
In the meantime, they do it the REALLY old fashioned way—all by hand!