Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Staple Crops Coming to Ohio and the Surrounding Area

Have you ever stopped to think about where your food comes from? How far did the buckwheat in your pancakes have to travel to get to you? An Ohio resident is hoping that soon you can say “Just down the road.”

Brandon Jaeger of Athens, OH has received a farmer rancher grant from NCR-SARE to investigate how to group staple food crops on the Western Allegheny Plateau.

Jaeger is concerned not only about where his food comes from, but what it costs to get to him. He notes that “Currently, the staple foods of my community’s diet come, for the most part, from large scale operations, with poor crop and wildlife diversity, heavy machinery operating on a nonrenewable resource, and minimal, if any, soil maintenance.” He is also concerned with how much fossil fuel is burned just to transport food to local areas.

Jaeger’s solution is to demonstrate how staple food crops can be grown locally, and with sustainable practices. He intends to grow, among others, four staple crops, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa. These crops will also fit into the diet of someone who is wheat/gluten intolerant.

To make growing staple foods feasible for small farmers with limited resources Jaeger plans to use permaculture and biointensive systems. Both of these systems focus on intensive (low inputs, high yield) practices that rely on renewable resources and self-sustaining ecosystems.

Jaeger’s overall goal for the project is education. He is using donated land in Athens and Meigs counties to set up example plots that the public can view to learn more about sustainable growing techniques.

“I hope that after seeing it can be done, more people will take on these practices and help to grow food locally,” said Jaeger.

He constantly encourages people to ask their local bakeries and markets for local grains and foods in order to encourage vendors to stock local products, citing the enthusiasm of local vendor Bob O’Neal, owner of Village Bakery and Della Zona Pizza . “Bob said he’d even be willing to close down the bakery to help with harvest,” explained Jaeger.

For more information on the project feel free to contact Jaeger at (740) 590-8240 or bdjaeger@hotmail.com.

This photo depicts Jaeger preparing site for quinoa trial beds. Photo by Michelle Ajamian.


June Holley said...

This is great! Thanks, Brandon, for this experiment. Have you researched hulling/thrashing? I've always thought that was tricky for small scale producers.

Michelle Ajamian said...

i am working with brandon on the project here in southeast ohio. to answer your question about harvest--yes, we are looking into the questions around harvesting and processing for the relatively small scale farms in appalachia. bigger acreages use giant machines, which are wrong for our ground and perhaps wrong in other ways given the impending oil crisis. the key issue here is small scale equipment and cooperative growing and harvesting. at this point, we need to do a lot of research and find funding for the next step, which has come faster than we anticipated by way of a lot of sincere interest in purchasing whatever we grow from local bakers and CSAs. we have even had a request from a CSA in maryland for all our adzuki and buckwheat!

so, if you or others have ideas about harvest and about funding, keep writing on this blog.



Michelle Ajamian said...

i just realized it's YOU and am wondering how your network expertise might help us look at our network of farmers, buyers, researchers, and supporters. i am developing "lists" of folks who might later be mapped using your resources.


bill mckibben said...

This is good stuff. Time for us to remember that the whole continent once grew grain. We have some great local wheat here in Vermont, just not enough!

Bill McKibben

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your attention and comments.
Imagine CSAs in which the members (all living very close together) come for harvest and process, each age group taking part in an appropriate task. Even if they weren't doing all of the harvest, and the rest were done by a core group and/or small equipment, it would keep the community in touch with their food.
We are looking into and inviting any financial assistance to move forward with purchasing infrastructure (processing equipment) to supply the region with staples.
Let us know if you have any ideas.
Brandon Jaeger

Anonymous said...

Oh, and we also need to be on the look-out for appropriate storage-
existing structures, as well as both conventional and alternative designs.
I think the more people who know about this project and who put a little thought into it, the sooner all the little pieces will fall together.

Unknown said...

i'm proud that such a wonderful, pro-active project is happening in our neighborhood. well done brandon and michelle. can't wait for the grains. thanks for all of your work and the inspiration to keep my eating local.

Mr. James/Cricket said...

Brandon, Michelle- Was doing some googling upland Br. Rice & found this article about soaking one's Br. Rice before cooking.
"Germinated rice contains much more fiber than conventional brown rice, three times the amount of the essential amino acid lysine, and ten times the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), another amino acid known to improve kidney function.

The researchers also found that brown rice sprouts - tiny buds less than a millimeter tall (1/16 of an inch) - contain a potent inhibitor of an enzyme called protylendopetidase, which is implicated in Alzheimer's disease."

Anonymous said...

From Jennifer Simon: As CEO of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, I see this is an economic opportunity for communities everywhere. We are building a sustainable economic development structure where diversity of opinion is celebration and education is at the forefront. Great work Brandon!

Michelle Ajamian said...

It's so good to hear that our chamber CEO is open to sustainable development! I worked on trying to green the chamber more than a decade ago, but it wasn't ready then and am extremely pleased to get this post. I wonder if there are ways we can work together to reach farmers and leverage funds for a community mill and small equipment for harvest through our soil and water district. they have seeders and spreaders, but to grow staples, we need combines and hullers available for farmers to try. any thoughts from others on this would be great to hear.


The Cat's Meow said...

From Cat Cutcher: This is an excellent and inspiring project. I am writing from Kenya in East Africa, where small farmers grow most of the staple grain crops for their communities, including maize, amaranth, millet, rice (in wetlands, and some dryland varieties too), and wheat (in the Rift Valley). I am glad to know that farmers back home in Ohio are working to grow these crops as well. It is important for us to shift away from shipping our grains over long distances and try to grow them more sustainably close to home.

Just a note - farmers here in Kenya use the "posho mill" - either a hand crank mill or diesel-operated mill - to grind and process maize and other grains. These have often been provided through non-governmental organizations, women's groups, or international donors. It might be worth looking into the "Posho Mill" as an option for hulling and grinding grains.

Good luck, and God Bless,

Cat Cutcher

Anonymous said...

I am sending out another report, since much has happened since the last report.
Starting with the roadside field, you've probably noticed the buckwheat, which has actually started to flower, soon to bring honey bees from far and wide, I am sure. It seems to be absent from the far back of the field, but on closer inspection, one finds that it is there, just a bit thinner. I anticipate that it will likely fill out as it matures more, as I think the seeding rate back there is actually closer to standard than the rest of the field.
You have also probably noticed what looks like a rectangular bare patch in the front and center of the field. Actually, that is intentional, and soon, you should see four stripes of vegetation running its length. The two on the side closest the road are millet, and the other two are amaranth. Toward the front (driveway side) of each of these rows are samplesof several varieties of amaranth and millet, started in pots and transplanted, and then the rest of the rows are the most commonly cultivated varieties in the US: "Plainsman", a variety of the species, Amaranthus Hypochondriacus, and a hybrid Pearl Millet, species Pennisetum glaucum (it's the only source of untreated pearl millet I could source in bulk, but I am growing out an open pollinated variety for seed, as well).
Please feel free to walk out there and look at things. The places that are safe to walk are the perimeter and down the very center, leaving the two rows of amaranth on your left and the two rows of millet on your right.
Sam has been talking to me about planting a few varieties of dry beans out there, and I guess he's done it, because there are some stakes.

Elsewhere, the quinoa is pushing four feet and in flower! The barley and oats are in flower, and several varieties of dry beans, including about a half-acre of adzuki beans are between eight and eighteen inches tall.
Two varieties of heirloom meal-corn, grown on contract for Village Bakery's specialty tortillas, are up. The variety that survived the intense rains just after the first planting are now between just below knee-high and just below crotch-high, and ten days before July!
The other variety, which I had to plant a second time, is approaching the knee. Both of them have heirloom pole beans planted with them, and heirloom squash, some from seed saved in Athens County. Bob at the Village Bakery asked that the corn be planted as one of the Three Sisters.
The Village Bakery, Heaven's Oven, and OU's food service have already enthusiastically declared that they would buy all staple food product that can be provided locally. Also, several brewers have expressed interest in sourcing locally grown barley.
A food-buying co-op in Maryland has contacted us and wants to buy adzuki beans and buckwheat.
Rural Action has taken interest in the staples project, taking on the tasks of talking with 10 local, commercial buyers, helping us with finding and securing funding for harvest and processing equipment we would need to provide Athens with its own staples cooperative, and funding and organizing a speakers event in the fall, when we will bring speakers on each of the unconventional crops in the project to present to any prospective local growers.
Several more folks have offered their land and their tractors to go into staple food production, and Athens County has said that if we get enough landowners interested, they would buy the equipment we would need, and we would be able to rent from them.
We have several options for harvesting, threshing, and milling, and many, many people have emphatically requested that I keep in touch with them so that they can help with harvest and processing (Im collecting and caring for scythes to complement the walk-behind tractor's sickle-bar mower).
If you have any equipment, scythes, cradles, expertise, or interest in being involved in getting staple foods into the local food consciousness, please contact me, bdjaeger@hotmail.com.
You can
In the meantime, you can see a scythe in action by checking out the link below. If for some reason it doesn't work, just go to www.youtube.com, and do a search for "scythe cheap oil".
There's some way to set it up so you can get an email alert if a comment is posted on this blog, but Im not sure how. If anybody out there is savvy on such matters, please let us all know.
Thanks and be well.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I want to apologize and clarify regarding the previous posting. That report had started as a group email to Currents Community, which is one of the sites in Athens County where we are growing staples.
While it may be interesting info to anyone who reads it, the first couple of paragraphs have some specific references that are obviously confusing if one is not a member of Currents.

Michelle Ajamian said...

We just joined an alternative agriculture class at Ohio University led by Art Trese to help with a hand harvest of wheat. We brought five scythes and the students were ready to go. Next week they will join us at Green Edge to harvest rye at our first field day.

We've been networking with some fantastic people locally, among them Bill Dix and Stacy Hall and the Taylors, who together have started the Snowville Dairy; Chris Chmiel, who is the leader on the Ohio Paw Paw Festival and goat dairy cheese maker; June Holley, Network Weaver; and most recently Molly Hurst, who is organizing for good food in public schools. I will try to keep up with news of what's going on. Oh yes, we've had an article in the local paper as well:

Michelle Ajamian said...

An update:
In the last four weeks, we've hosted two days of hand harvest of a winter rye cover crop (for practice and to give Ohio University students some exposure to our project). That event landed our project on the front page of a local paper, with great photos, among them the "picture of the week" of our buckwheat in bloom (read the full story at http://www.athensnews.com/news/local/2008/jul/14/where-does-your-food-come-usda-grant-provides-rese/).
In our search for a local farmer to do custome combining, we found a John Deere 1967 model for sale for $800. It's parked at the farm, ready to act as a stationary thresher for our barley and buckwheat crops.
We are off to do a scything at one of our cooperator farms, Currents, from which we will have enough buckwheat, along the batch Brandon harvested by hand today, to test the setting on the combine, and bring the seed to a local seed company, Companion Plants, to see how cleaning goes. We have a growing wish list and the relationships we are building with local businesses and nonprofits may make that list a reality.

More later.


James said...

hey brandon and michelle,
cool project! one thought i have is that the amish could be a resource/model for local production and consumption of staple crops. I know that up around chesterhill they are growing spelt, barley, wheat, and corn, much of which is consumed locally. Are you growing any sorghum/milo? I would love to be involved in gathering good varieties of it, it is such a wonderful plant, drought tolerant and the seed heads and stalks can both be consumed, can also be used to provide fiber or sweetener, yay!
james cochran

Brandon Jaeger said...

Hi Folks, Brandon here.
Well it has been quite a while since we last updated this blog. I guess it's not my strongest suit, but I will now catch you all up, because lots of exciting things have happened for the Southeastern Ohio Beans, Grains, and Oilseeds project.
Last year's growing season went quite well. We had a lot of involvement at our field days, many inquiries from local farmers and landowners about how they might get involved, and great support from local food businesses, such as Casa Nueva, Della Zona and Village Bakery.
Of the four original test crops, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet, only quinoa had a major problem. The plants were very healthy, robust, and beautiful, and The Village Bakery purchased some of the delicious and nutritious leaves for salad greens. The flowers were huge, of various vivid colors, and much appreciated by many colonies of pollinators, but some kind of desiccating disease struck before seed could form. We will continue to experiment with this plant, but for now we will focus on the other three original crops, as well as some additional ones, as requested by the community. These additional crops are beans, spelt, sunflower for oil, and meal corn.
In fact, we grew a test plot of heirloom meal corn last year, and the harvest was used by The Village Bakery to make their signature tortillas last fall.
We want to develop a system that provides their meal corn from local farms, all year round, as well as to provide much of the rest of our community's retail and wholesale staple food needs.
In order to start to build that system, we have turned to several funding sources. The first is Ohio University's Ben Stinner Foundation for Healthy Agro-Ecosystems and Sustainable Communities, which has provided 6 thousand dollars to fund one season's growing and harvesting of several seed crops at Green Edge Gardens Organic Farm in Amesville, Ohio.
The next funding source is Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation's Agricultural Action and Awareness grant, which will support post harvest processing, such as milling, of the crops that are grown.
Since then, we have also received funding from The Athens Foundation (3,100 dollars) to go toward storage and other supporting pieces, and from USDA-SARE (18,000 dollars), which allows us to fund involvement from an additional farm, King Family Farm in Albany, Ohio, and to match the funds of the Stinner Endowment, the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, and The Athens Foundation to setup a two-year experimental demo which will very likely ramp up into a sustainable business in bean, grain, pseudo-cereal, and oilseed crop production, processing, marketing, and distribution.

Additionally, we feel pretty good about our chances of receiving an additional 58,000 dollars from Ohio University's Sugar Bush Foundation to support three additional elements: 1.Ohio University's Russ College of Mechanical Engineering, one full-time Grad student in developing some appropriate technology in the form of a portable/stationary thresher/cleaner/de-huller unit, which can make harvest of these crops much more flexible on the small, irregular plots of our region, 2. Community Food Initiatives Community Gardens and Edible Schoolyards in growing and minimally processing some of these crops, and 3. my full-time coordination of this project.

Brandon Jaeger said...

We have visited En-Hanced Products and Manufacturing, a family-owned business since the thirties, located in Westerville. They had long specialized in seed cleaners for farmers. During the "Get big or get out" period, they diversified in order to survive. When we visited and told them about our work, they offered us a discount on a seed-cleaner and screens in support of this project, and we feel that they are a great partner to include in all our our loops. Manufacturing is, after all, one of the pillars of healthy regional economies, and very important in the realm of food production. Ask us for their contact info.

We have been developing a partnership with Butch Mitchell who is a coordinator of a project to develop appropriate technology in pressing oil from seeds to be used for on-farm fuel. This partnership is to manifest as an introduction to producing sunflower oil as a food product.

At Green Edge Gardens, I was able to get seed into the ground last week, just before this last bout of heavy rains: Amaranth, Millet, Adzuki and Black Turtle Beans, and Sunflower.

JB has not had a dry enough spell yet on his side of the county, but we hope that the heirloom meal corn and larger plots of beans will be able to be planted within a week.

Buckwheat will be planted in early summer, and spelts will be planted in the fall for harvest in early summer next year.

We are zero-ing in on what we think is a very appropriate mill, a SAMAP commercial mill, made in France. This lead came to us via a project very similar to ours, which we've just discovered, happening in Oregon. We had a lot to discuss with this group, and still do. This is an exciting new development, and a fine opportunity for mutual support across the continent.

Check out this link to read about the Bean and Grain Project in Oregon: http://www.mudcitypress.com/beanandgrain.html

This week, we had the pleasure of hosting Steve Bosserman and Steve Faivre in their tour of agriculture in the Southeastern part of Ohio, as part of their USDA-SCRI grant. Bosserman is a co-PI (Principal Investigator) for this grant, which will support the cultivation of cohesive regional food systems in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and Faivre is a consultant for agricultural equipment manufacturers. I think they learned a lot, particularly in regards to how this food network is working and how it can be improved, and also in regards to what kind of equipment is needed by the burgeoning population of small, sustainable farms, here and across the US.

The Steves gave us some great ideas and coaching from their wealth of experience and knowledge in the mechanics of technology in agricultural business ventures. Most notably of these are in the arena of crop storage and harvesting. The latter, in particular, may be of interest to many farmers/processors interested in grain production. This is removing the combine from the farm, replacing it with a mechanism that only cuts the crop just below the seed head, and then binds, bags, or bales the crop. Farmers can either cooperatively own a stationary threshing machine or take their crop to a processing business that owns one, in order to have their crop threshed and otherwise processed. This reduces the number of complicated and expensive harvesting units that are out in the field and also allows threshing to happen any time of day or night, and in any kind of weather. Of course, this is not a wholly new idea, but once again, we find ourselves turning to the solutions of our ancestors with the surprise and delight of children.

Brandon Jaeger said...

Regulations for a grain processing facility are a confusing element of the project. It seems as though the ODA doesn't really know exactly what is required of such a facility, but we are hoping to have that figured out within the next month. We have several options for a facility site, and the most likely is ACEnet.

We are now turning our attention to the Value-Added Producer Grant from the USDA. We are considering multiple avenues of approach with this step. We could start a cooperative of bean and grain farmers, made up of such groups as organic veggie farmers, conventional feed crop farmers, Amish farmers, and landowners who are not already farmers but have some of the helpful infrastructure, such as land, tractor, barn. This cooperative could then contract with a newly formed grain, bean, and oilseed processing business, or the processing business could be cooperatively owned and managed by the farmers. It may be some other structure.

All along, we are also continuing to educate ourselves in the principles and techniques of Permaculture, Edible Forest design, and other systems that emphasize working with the characteristics of one's bioregion in producing the food and non-food products that one's community needs. We have taken the very first steps in discussion with farmers about starting down that road, as we feel that it will be very important in the future of agriculture.

So, I think that about covers it for now. We will keep you posted, but, meanwhile, please feel free to send questions and comments our way.

Thanks for all of the work that you do to flourish our communities!

Michelle and Brandon