Originally, grains such as rye and oats were planted as cover crops – crops planted not with the intention of consumption but with the intention of protecting the soil from water and wind erosion during the winter months, and to be incorporated into the soil, adding organic matter.
However, aware of a prominent void in the local food movement, in the fall of 2010 we sowed barley, rye, and wheat for consumption, and in the spring of 2011, we planted oats. In the summer of 2011, we harvested our first crop of grains for human consumption. From here we had a whole new set of challenges set about by the need for appropriate drying and storage practices as well as scaled cleaning equipment. That’s a whole other story.
According to the agricultural extension officer, we would need 750 acres to “make a living” growing grain. Yet nothing which is currently grown at commodity scale is useful to the artisanal baker striving for delicious, nutritious bread. With 25 acres, we recognized the need to, again, as nature shows so well, diversify. We have since incorporated buckwheat, millet, sorghum, corn, rice, dry beans, and mustard seed into the rotation. We are also experimenting with sweet cane sorghum. Attentive planning and double-cropping over the course of the yearly cycle have resulted in a somewhat economically viable system yielding variety and quality that a baker can select for. In our grain fields, we polycrop with added camelina or flowers, mainly red poppies and blue bachelor’s buttons, which add diversity to the stand and provide food for the pollinators as for the soul.
The underlying goal is to improve the soil and sequester carbon while producing nutrient dense food.