No sooner had the news come out that rice stocks worldwide were at an all time modern low, and that the price of wheat had hit historic highs, when I started getting calls and letters from all over. Modern homesteaders wanted to know where they could get a copy of my old book, Small Scale Grain Raising.
It is gratifying to know there are still Americans who, instead of wringing their hands at a possible problem headed their way, start figuring what to do about it. I only wish I had some copies of that book left. It was published in 1977 and is now going for as high as $300 a crack on the Internet. If you have one, put it in your safe deposit box. But I am happy to report that a new edition will be coming out as soon as I can get the revision written.
I don’t really know if the high grain prices have anything to do with renewed interest in that book. What seems to me more likely is that self-reliant people are taking a look at what is happening in our financial world and wondering if it is time to plow up the backyard or that old horse lot and plant some food.
In my little world of writing books about rural life and culture, this is all the talk right now, as it was in 1973, 1982, and 1995 when the economy did “readjustments” like it is doing now, only not quite so profoundly. (In an economy ruled by interest on “pretend” money, as I call it, about every ten years there has to be a shakeup to bring the dreamers of riches, floating around in their bubbles, back down to earth again.) The idea of growing and threshing out several bushels of wheat (a bushel makes about 50-60 loaves of bread) in the backyard makes sense to self-reliant people. It isn’t really that difficult to do.
My wife and I first tried it in the late 1960s when living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just for fun. We scythed the wheat we grew in our backyard, made bundles of it, shocked up the bundles and when the grain was dry we beat the bundles on a bed sheet with plastic ball bats, threshing out the grain. The kids thought it was great fun. We winnowed out the chaff by pouring the grain slowly from one bucket to another in front of a window fan.
That experience became the genesis of the book mentioned above, though at the time that wasn’t in my plans. I grew the wheat in the first place to feed to our chickens. I would just throw a bundle into the henhouse every day and the chickens would do the threshing, leaving the straw for bedding.
It was only as a sort of afterthought that Carol decided to try to bake bread with it. She milled the grain in her blender, but that was very slow, so eventually, we got a hand-cranked mill which we still use today. I haven’t grown wheat for a few years now, having kindly farm neighbors who will sell us a few bushels out of their combine harvester.
A fellow small-scale farmer, Tim Moreland in Oregon, recently sent me a picture of his amazing way to harvest oats for his livestock. When it is nearly ripe, he cuts and windrows it like hay, then when it is suitably dry, forks it into huge sacks he found locally, suspending the sacks, one at a time, from the prongs of his front end loader (see photo). His whole family helps in the forking, which is another reason why we small-scale farmers do such crazy things. They involve the whole family. He then hauls the oat “hay” to the barn and feeds it to the livestock in winter or when pastures are short. The animals eat the grain and most of the straw as roughage.
I can remember when wheat was still ground into flour in mills in our county. It just beats me that in places burgeoning with grain like this area, that those local mills could not remain profitable. Did people just quit baking at home in the 1950s? Looks to me like home bread-making is on the rise (oh those puns) again, especially now with all the new kitchen flour mills and bread-makers available.
If you type “local flour mills” into your search engine. I think you will be surprised. There’s quite a few of them all over the U.S. and Canada. While the political pundits and the banking bandits wring their hands and steal our money and then promote rather tasteless mass-produced bread at over two dollars a loaf, there’s still a “grain” of contrariness in many Americans. That’s how we’ve survived so far.
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author ofThe Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Photo Credit: Katherine Moreland
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