Growing Highly Nutritious Staple Food Crops Using Intensive and Sustainable Agriculture Systems
WORK ACTIVITIES AND EXPENDITURES
Over 250 hours of my own work primarily fell into the categories of researching and ordering seed, preparing soil (some by hand and some by tractor), starting seedlings, planting seeds and seedlings, cultivating weeds, hosting tours, leading field day work (cultivating, harvesting, threshing, winnowing), preparing food samples, writing outreach pieces to newspapers, newsletters, listservs and blogs, and making research phone calls, meetings, and emails with researchers and farmers. Valued at ten dollars an hour, that is 2500 dollars. In my proposed budget, I estimated that my paid hours would be 200 for a total of 2000 dollars. Any hours beyond that, is voluntary. I expect my labor to decrease next year, due to a lot of learning, streamlining, and preparation in this season.
I have paid Michelle Ajamian 600 dollars for labor and correspondence work (organizing and advertising events).
One hundred ninety five dollars have gone to the Currents Community for use of their tractor and fuel, and 80 dollars have gone to Paul Bircher for his tractor time at the Belly Bowl site. I will not need Paul Bircher’s services at Belly Bowl next year, and the remaining 25 dollars for tractor work should suffice for some spring discing of rye at the Currents site.
I spent 600 dollars to participate in a weeklong Permaculture workshop, and 150 dollars to have world-renown Permaculture teacher and site designer Peter Bane, also publisher of Permaculture Activist magazine, visit one of my sites and make recommendations.
I have spent well over the 150 dollars I allotted for Permaculture and Biointensive literature resources, so I will call the difference my own personal costs.
I have spent 270 dollars on hand tools and 25 dollars on miscellaneous supplies such as Bird-Scare Flash-Tape and a wheel-measuring tool for test plots.
I have spent 100 dollars on supplies for sample foods.
Crop seeds have cost 148 dollars, and cover crop seed (primarily rye and buckwheat) have cost 198 dollars. I ordered liberally for two seasons, and I have stored them well, so there should be no more seed costs for this particular project.
I hosted a total of sixteen tours and field days at the various sites, with a total turnout of 145 people. Some of these were repeats; I did not track that.
Abstract: In terms of fieldwork, the first season of this project went, for the most part, as expected and planned. Amaranth and millet were planted at all four sites. One of the sites, Currents Community, was the only site of four in full sod at the beginning of the project. We had an unusually wet spring, and there was simply no time dry enough to work that site in time for quinoa’s late April planting. Because I ended up using buckwheat for more than a test plot at each of three sites, and because Willow Farm turned out to have limited space in its fenced vegetable plot, I decided not to plant buckwheat at Willow.
All crops showed at least some degree of success. However, quinoa developed some sort of disease that I have yet to identify, and although I was able to showcase very large and robust plants and harvest and sell some quinoa leaf, the plants, for the most part, did not make it to seed maturity.
Many enthusiastic volunteers attended our several field days and were excited to learn about staple seed crop production by participating in tours, cultivation, harvest, and processing of the test/demo sites.
The products community members have sampled are: quinoa tabouli, quinoa-stuffed tomatoes, popped amaranth confection bars, amaranth/buckwheat flour chapatis, crackers, bunt cakes, and pancakes. Across the board, people loved the tastes and the idea that the ingredients might one day be provided locally, and many wanted to know the recipes and when I would be marketing these products.
Several farmers and landowners in the region have taken interest in the project, attended field days, and even tilled up and cover-cropped portions of their land with the intention of getting involved.
Local restaurants and other bulk food buyers have asked when they would be able to place orders on locally grown staple seed crops, and many have asked us to grow other beans, grains, and oils, that were not included in the initial SARE grant. Among these procurers, there appears to be a great deal of enthusiasm, commitment and flexibility in local procurement of staple seed crops. These qualities are of course essential in a start-up niche that is so unique.
The Central Appalachia Staple Foods Collaborative is in its very beginning stages of formation, with members from a diverse range of occupations. The project has garnered interest from several non-profit and government entities.
From very early on in this project’s development, it has been very clear that it will be prudent to move beyond small test-plots and hand-harvesting to the development of a community-scale, commercially viable regional staple seed crop system complete with appropriate technology and infrastructure.
I have received funding from OSU OARDC’s Ben Stinner Endowment for Healthy Agro-Ecosystems and Sustainable Communities, and Ohio Farm Bureau’s Agricultural Action and Awareness Grant to expand the project in 2008, to plant larger stands of various staple seed crops, purchase appropriate infrastructure to make harvest and processing feasible, to demonstrate to interested farmers how they may become involved in growing staple seed crops for regional consumption, and to make the infrastructure available for them to get involved. I have also received the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agricultural Action and Awareness grant to procure equipment for post-harvest processing, packaging, and distributing product. Two participating farmers and I have applied for a 2008 SARE Group Farmer Grant to further expand this effort.
I attended Part One of the two-part Permaculture (PC) Certification process, learning about the basic ethics and principles of the PC system, as well as some of the essential strategies and techniques. I learned a few techniques from the study of PC that would specifically address annual staple seed crop production. Some would apply very well to a garden or homestead situation, where the staple seed crops planting would be relatively small. These are techniques that apply to any kind of food, fuel, fiber, feed, or fertilizer crop, and two examples are sheet mulching and polyculture.
While these are techniques suited to garden scale production, the primary Permaculture technique that I found to be suitable for commercial farm scale is alley-cropping.
Some varieties of quinoa seed seemed to have a very low germination rate, and it was quite difficult to distinguish it from Lamb’s Quarter (also a chenopod), pigweed, and a few other wild weeds, so some specimens were probably mistakenly weeded, but even more suffered from overcrowding by weeds due to our reluctance to cultivate a crop we could hardly recognize. The specimen at my home site, where I was able to put in copious hours of management, grew very large (some as tall as eight ft, some as wide as 4 ft. They appeared very healthy in stem, leaf, and flower. However, they were hit with a condition which, as per consultation with Rob Myers, Jefferson Institute, was probably some kind of disease, so I got very little seed. Millet grew and produced well, and bird predation was the main problem. Amaranth and buckwheat were very successful and much enjoyed by participants (sight, activity, and taste). While amaranth grew back with multiple stalks and heads when predated by deer at the unfenced sites, buckwheat, as can be expected, didn’t stand a chance.
It seems that all four crops can grow here at least through flowering stage. Next year, I hope to find out if quinoa can be successful and/or what it needs in order to avoid a disease such as the one it suffered this year. While the plants were still very healthy and robust, our site was visited by several community members, including the owner of a local bakery. I encouraged visitors to taste quinoa’s edible and nutritious leaves, and when he did, he immediately ordered five pounds. I researched the amount of leaves that can be harvested without affecting seed yields, and was able to pick four pounds for him, which he purchased for a little higher than organic spinach was going in this area.
Something I noticed in the millet crop, aside from severe bird predation (which would probably be less if larger stands are grown), was a great deal of non-uniform ripening. Some early seed heads bore completely mature seeds while others were just beginning their subtle flowering stage, the latter never forming seeds. I also observed that there was spotty seed development that looked like something other than the bird predation, and I suspect that millet, like corn, needs to be planted in stands that have depth in both dimensions for good pollination. I will try this next year. Millet was the most challenge to hand thresh, as the seed head and flower parts tended to hold on to the seeds. It may be that threshing will prove much easier next year if we let the heads dry even longer after harvest.
Amaranth developed very well and definitely responded to soils of greater fertility and tilth with greater plant height and larger flower heads. Pre-flowering amaranth was a favored target of deer predation at the two sites without fencing, and when it was eaten down by deer, it invariable responded by sending multiple tillers up from the point of truncation. These tillers then produced flowers. Amaranth was the biggest hit among visitors for its visually stunning display, the process of threshing and winnowing the seed heads, and the value-added product recipes I had people sample at field days, tours, and off-farm events.
I used buckwheat as a cover crop in areas that I expected to expand the project to next season, and as a teaching aide. Field day participants experienced scything down the first planting of buckwheat cover and learned that buckwheat can be planted immediately after danger of frost has passed and mown down at 75 percent seed, and it will reseed itself for another crop, which can be either harvested or mown again for a third round of green manure. I also experimented with buckwheat in shocks as a way to dry in the field after harvest. Despite a heavy rainstorm, the buckwheat was fairly dry after a week, and I fed it, along with some barley grown in cooperation with participating farmer Joe Beres, through the head of a 1967 John Deere E45 combine I had purchased.
II. Community Response
Probably the most compelling result of the project is the evidence of the deep and broad interest and enthusiasm among farmers, bulk food buyers, consumers, government, and non-profits in my region for the benefits offered by a localized staple food system. The stakeholders are listed below, and those marked with an asterisk are members of the newly formed Central Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative (CASFC), which includes businesses, non-profits, academics, and government entities committed to developing a robust localized staple food system in our region.
A. Food Business:
Within the first week of my notification of the award from SARE, several restaurants, bakeries, catering services, and grocers wanted to know when they could place orders for locally produced grains, beans, and pseudo-cereals. I was taken aback, because I had expected that marketing would be an entirely separate and daunting endeavor to be tackled primarily after the two seasons of this current project had passed, and I had discovered and demonstrated which of these crops were viable in our region.
Additional adjustments were made in response to the interest garnered by the project from various sectors of the community. Bob O’Neil, co-owner of The Village Bakery and Della Zona Pizzeria, is committed to sourcing as much local food as possible. He not only stated that he would adjust his recipes, pay more, tolerate supply inconsistencies, close shop to employ his crew in the harvest, and experiment with unfamiliar crops, but also offered to the project seed of two varieties of heirloom meal corn that he likes to use for his specialty, home-made tortillas, as well as one variety of dry beans. This prompted a general broadening of the crop portfolio. In addition to the initial quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet, I added meal corn (two sites for two varieties), beans (Adzuki, Black Turtle, Black Garbanzo, Canellini, and Genuine Cornfield), and barley. Bob O’Neil and employees came for the meal corn harvest, and the Village Bakery served corn tortillas for several months, made from the corn I grew in test plots.
I also spent considerable time meeting with other local food procurers and grocers to assess their interest in local staple foods, the quantities of various staple crops that they purchase, and their willingness to be flexible in their procurement. While there is shared interest across a broad range of procurers, the ability to be flexible with issues such as supply consistency varied greatly. Ohio University’s food procurer, for example, expressed a very high degree of interest but also a very high requirement for consistency of supply, while the four food outlets in our area whose niche is in local procurement, and who therefore cater to a consumer base that prefers to support local foods, expressed similar outstanding flexibility as Bob O’Neil, above. The CEO of the Athens Chamber of Commerce commented with excitement on my SARE-appointed blog, and I met with her and discussed future possibilities in local businesses if the production of these crops were to reach a commercial scale. Joining us at that meeting was Leslie Schaller (Director of Programming, ACEnet, appointee to the Governor’s Ohio Food Policy Advisory Council, director of the national Farmers Market Coalition, and Board chair for the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Community Food initiatives and the Athens Municipal Arts Commission), and she advised without hesitation that finding a sizeable and enthusiastic market would be no problem.
Another sector of interest came to light after the project received coverage in local papers and newsletters, and as we spread the word among the customers of the CSA organic farm and the social circles of the other three farms involved in the project. Local commercial farmers and landowners interested in commercial farming, now totaling nine new properties, want to know how they can be involved. They have each offered a range of three to 23 acres of tillable ground to staple food production, plus a barn and several tractors. Some have already tilled ground and planted cover crop in preparation.
One of the participating farmers, Kip Rondy, has agreed to expand the staple foods project, and we have tilled and cover-cropped just under four acres. We have already secured funding from OSU OARDC’s Ben Stinner Foundation for Healthy Agro-Ecosystems and Sustainable Communities to assist in costs of this expansion, and from Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Action and Awareness Grant to assist in funding the post harvest process of staple seed crops.
A local pig and poultry farmer, JB King, has joined us for a 2008 SARE group farmer grant to make this expansion include a farm that already has some of the infrastructure to grow staple seed crops due to growing animal feed on-farm and can be a good example for more conventional growers in my area to make a transition.
We plan to use the 2009 season as an opportunity to demonstrate the growing, harvesting, and processing of staple seed crops to the landowners and farmers who have taken interest, and to offer consultation and equipment to them to get started with their own production.
Rural Action* has appointed some of their VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) time to research into staple food production and demand in our area, and has signed on to be the primary fiscal agent for several staple foods related projects as well as the facilitating agent for CASFC.
Community Food Initiatives (CFI)*, has taken a role in doing outreach among its members about the project, and has signed on to a project to inform and support the growing of staple foods in two of their already flourishing Community Gardens and two of their Edible Schoolyards.
Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet)*: has done some preliminary research on mill purchase and storage for its certified “business incubator” kitchen, and has offered to do labeling and marketing for a growers cooperative and/or value-added business.
The Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeastern Ohio*: The Executive Director, Dick Stevens, has attended the first CASFC, has offered the food bank’s state-of-the-art certified kitchen for product development, and has signed on as a collaborator in opening up the channels for local production of staple foods to be supported through Food Bank purchasing.
OSU Extension* Agent Rory Lewandowski has attended several organizational and planning meetings in support of localized staple food production and procurement, offering his expertise in agronomic research design and his networking resources with regional farmers.
Ohio University Dept. of Mechanical Engineering Chair, Dr. Greg Kremer*, has signed on for a project to assign a full-time graduate student and a part-time undergraduate student to developing a portable threshing/cleaning/de-hulling unit that is appropriate in scale, efficiency, cost, and durability for small-plot commercial and garden production of staple seed crops.
Ohio University Associate Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology, Art Trese, has been bringing his Alternative Agriculture classes out to some of the project events, has invited us to attend and speak at some of his classes, and has begun investigating the process to expand the University’s Master Gardeners’ Plot to include staple foods, adjacent to the Athens Community Garden.
Hocking College Eco-Tourism Professor Rebecca Wood has brought her class to a project site and is committed to attending again next year.
Athens City Mayor, Paul Weihl and Athens County Commissioners have each committed funds and City and County Planner time to a collaborative project investigating the logistic and policy barriers to giving farmers access to fallow, publicly-owned farmland for staple seed crop production.
Because information about my project was posted on the Ohio Local Foods Systems Collaborative (OLFSC) website (www.localfoodsystems.org), I was invited to attend meetings of two task forces of the newly appointed Governor’s Ohio Food System Policy Advisory Council, and have since been asked to sit on the Healthy Foods Access Task Force.
III. Project Alterations
All this community response changed the emphasis of my project greatly. I consulted with my OSU Ag Extension Agent and project cooperator, Rory Lewandowski, and we decided on a few changes up-front to the planned project, given the immediate response from the market, the emergent news of global grain shortages and rationing, and drawing on his experience in experimental farming and his knowledge of the agricultural interests of our region. First of all, it was decided that, while the comparison of success of several varieties of each subject crop would provide interesting and valuable qualitative information, for the purposes and scope of this research, I would not need to emphasize formal comparisons among them, and the microclimates variance among the four plot sites were probably not significant enough to warrant comparison among each variety among each site. The same held true for comparisons between direct seeded and transplanted specimens: while it was a good idea to engage this variable for my own edification as an experimental farmer, it did not need to be formalized.
The latter assertion was seconded by a consultation with vegetable specialist at U of Maine’s Highmoor Farm, Mark Hutton, who has taken over the work started by SARE funded Quinoa Introduction in the River Valley (FNE02-406). Hutton has found that the quinoa that was transplanted generally fared better than direct-seeded, but that it opens many new variables to consider, and might serve well as no more than a noteworthy consideration, particularly given the interest in a commercial system for staple foods already expressed by my community.
With so much commercial interest, I added several crops, mostly for study and public awareness, and I spent a lot of time in my kitchen, developing value-added recipes made of these crops.
Because of the resounding excitement from the community in learning about and supporting local procurement of staple foods, I again put the more scientific elements of this project on the back-burner, and harvest events prioritized public awareness over precision of yield measurement. At these events (we’ve held seven thus far), attendees of all ages saw and heard about the project and the particular crops and experienced harvest with scythes, sickles, hand-clippers, and sickle-bar on a two-wheeled tractor. Attendees also learned several low-tech threshing techniques, such as beating the plants into coolers and dancing in groups on the plants with a tarp underneath. Finally, we cleaned the seed with screens and several winnowing methods. Obviously, this was not a controlled environment for measuring yields; for example, some of the children found that they enjoyed eating the raw amaranth seed, along with the accompanying chaff and plant parts.
Joan Benjamin confirmed that, since this work still supports the objective of the project, “to introduce highly nutritious staple food crops to my region, both in this climate and within specific sustainable growing systems,” and furthermore provides additional interesting information, these adjustments are within the scope of the proposed and contracted project.
IV. Permaculture and Biointensive
I attended Part One of the two-part Permaculture (PC) Certification process, learning about the basic ethics and principles of the PC system, as well as some of the essential strategies and techniques.
As it turns out, production of annual grain, bean, pseudo-cereal and oil seed crops is about the least addressed topic of human existence in PC. This is probably due to the fact that PC largely emphasizes perennial crops due to their energy efficiency and soil conservation, and the fact that annual staple seed crops tend to take up a relatively large portion of land in any garden or farm, the yearly (or more) tilling and vegetation die-off are not very attractive to a system that emphasizes principles such as greatest benefit for the least energy input and allowing an ecosystem to fulfill its succession.
However, while PC’s relative disinterest in annual staple seed crops is largely a response to the current global agriculture system, which, from the PC perspective, is extremely wasteful and by far over-emphasizes large acreages of these crops, I still have been much encouraged by PC teachers and students to continue this investigation, as there still seems to be some need/demand for staple seed crops, and it is important to meet that demand in a way that adheres, as much as possible, to the above principles and others which are founded on the ethic of “sustainability and care of the Earth, all people, and their ecosystems.”
I learned a few techniques from the study of PC that would specifically address annual staple seed crops. Some would apply very well to a garden or homestead situation, where the staple seed crops planting would be relatively small. These are techniques that apply to any kind of food, fuel, fiber, feed, or fertilizer crop, and two examples are sheet mulching and polyculture.
Sheet mulching is a technique that creates a garden bed from sod, which can be immediately planted into without breaking the ground at all. Uncomposted and rotting organic material is applied directly to the ground, along with the cuttings of any vegetation that remains standing at the site. Then, an organic weed barrier, such as newspaper or cardboard is applied, on top of which is applied mulch such as hay or leaves. To plant seeds, a row of finished compost can be laid out as a furrow. To transplant starts, pockets of compost can be placed for staging. If the weed barrier is cardboard, it can be helpful to puncture the cardboard at the precise planting spot to give the crops’ roots more chance.
Polyculture is about mixing crops and mixing annuals and perennials in a space to mimic a more natural growing system that includes multiple layers of growth, diversity of species, and various micro-climates. These features perform several functions, such as reducing pest and disease, increasing pollinators and other beneficial organisms, and increasing fertility and yield of a given area. An entirely annual example is the traditional planting of corn, beans, and squash together. An example of polyculture involving perennials is an annual root crop, such as carrots, growing on the southern side of a stand of hazelnut bushes, with semi-dwarf apples just north of the hazelnuts. A well-pruned walnut tree stands above and is adorned with grape or kiwi vines. In PC terms, this intentional and interdependent plant grouping is referred to as a guild.
Sheet-mulching is very useful on a garden or small vegetable farm operation, and there may be good reason to explore techniques and technology that would allow efficient preparation of whole fields in this way- perhaps a light-weight, slow-speed pick-up truck with a stack of cardboard or some other organic weed-barrier in its bed and either human or mechanized deposit of it onto the ground.
However, the technique that I believe to be most immediately applicable to a farm operation that seeks to add staple seed crops to its portfolio is a scaled up version of polyculture called alley cropping.
This is the practice of planting rows of perennial crops, preferably on contour, with annual crops being raised in between the rows. Rows would be spaced according to what equipment is needed to maneuver in between, also taking into account the perennials’ mature crown diameters. Dwarfs and semi-dwarfs can be used, and trees can also be kept pruned for manageability and sunlight for the annuals. The larger cuttings can be used as firewood or building material, and the smaller branches, twigs, and leaves can be left where they lay as fertilizer. In PC terms, this technique is called, “chop and drop”.
According to the USDA National Agro-Forestry Center, “In alley cropping, an agricultural crop is grown simultaneously with a long-term tree crop to provide annual income while the tree crop matures. Fine hardwoods, like walnut, oak, ash, and pecan, are favored species in alley cropping systems and can potentially provide high-value lumber or veneer logs. Nut crops can be another intermediate product”
Alley-cropping is also a favored technique of Sustainable Harvest International. In Latin America, this group encourages farmers to plant nitrogen-fixing trees in rows among their annual staples, such as corn and cassava. The trees bring nutrients up with their deep taproots, and, when they get tall enough to shade the annual crops, they are cut back to re-sprout even stronger. Again, chop and drop is employed.
Another method for taking advantage of the efficiency of perennials is emerging in cutting edge work such as Wes Jackson’s of The Land Institute, to develop strains of perennial grains. He and others are close to marketing a commercial grade strain of perennial wheat, and other perennial seed crops, such as maize and sunflowers, are on their way.
The Rand Corporation researcher James A. Dewar writes the following in his research paper entitled, Perennial Polyculture Farming: Seeds of Another Agricultural Revolution?:
“Perennial polyculture farming (PPF) offers great benefits for the environment and humankind. Farmland would be reengineered to emulate ecosystems, such as prairies, that require no maintenance yet provide food, continuous ground cover to minimize erosion, and natural methods to fertilize crops and control pests. Food production would be sustainable, the undesirable effects of modern agriculture would decrease, and poverty and hunger would be reduced. While the promise of PPF is not yet widely recognized, early steps to explore its feasibility are under way.”
Biointensive techniques prioritize maximum yields from a given unit of space. Companion planting, this system’s version of polyculture, is one way to do that. Others are to dig beds very deeply (double-digging) in order to increase tilth and therefore allow closer plant spacing yet higher yields. While it is still of interest to test these techniques and their results in the production of staple seed crops, I have largely turned my attention from them, because, given the community interest in commercial-scale production of these crops, it seems more fitting to focus on techniques that are conducive to this. Double-digging and hexagonal plant spacing, while very space-efficient, are basically labor-intensive, at least initially. To meet the interest expressed by my community, which I did not expect when I wrote my proposal, and to demonstrate the feasibility of a localized staple seed crop procurement system, I am going to focus on sustainable techniques that are compatible with at least some mechanization.
WORK PLAN FOR 2009
Green Edge Gardens: Because the owners of this flourishing certified organic farm are committed to meeting the community interest we’ve received this year, the plots on this farm will be expanded to commercial scale production of staple seed crops (total 3.75 acres) to be distributed and consumed locally. This will be done with grant support from OSU’s Ben Stinner Endowment for Healthy Agro-Ecosystems and Sustainable Communities, with which I will purchase equipment, such as pull-type combine and seed-cleaner, to make this production possible. Additionally, the farmers and landowners who have responded to this year’s outreach with interest in growing staple seed crops will be invited to attend various farm events and to be informed as to the progress and discoveries of this endeavor. They will also be able to make use of the equipment to grow staple seed crops. This may be the start of a staple seed crop growers’ cooperative, or at least a league or consortium.
I will also use funding from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Action and Awareness Grant program to procure infrastructure for post-harvest storage, milling, packaging, and distribution of the crops produced on this farm.
Willow Farm: Owner Joe Beres was very impressed with two of the crops that we tested on his farm- amaranth and millet. They grew very well on his farm, despite significant bird predation on the millet, and he appreciated their use in his kitchen. He is also interested in the potential of these crops to create feed for his various livestock, both from the seed crop, and from the vegetation. He has decided to take over the work at his farm, continuing to grow out these two crops. This is partly due to his increased interest over this year, partly to the expanded scope of the Staple Seed Crop project, and partly to the limitations imposed by the realities of petroleum fuel prices (this farm is quite a distance from the other three). I will travel to his farm periodically to assist in tasks such as cultivation and harvest, but he will be taking a primary role in his plots, and will report yields to me at the end of the season.
Currents Community: There has been significant interest garnered among this community in the prospects of at least purchasing their staple seed crops locally, if not in actually entering production. For several members, this has been an opportunity to get to know some new crops, such as amaranth and buckwheat. My work on their plot sparked interest in one of the community members, who was inspired to grow dry beans next to my buckwheat. Additionally, the community interest in alternative growing techniques, such as Permaculture, has increased.
At Currents Community next year, I will repeat the plots of amaranth and millet, continue the double use of buckwheat (food and cover crop), and this time include quinoa, since the rye cover should be a lot easier to turn under than last year’s sod. Additionally, I will incorporate demonstrations of Permaculture and Biointensive via sheet mulching and companion planting (vining beans, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers) with these crops. I will also continue to involve the community and its many networks in events such as scything, harvesting, and processing.
Belly Bowl Farm: As I have found that the Permaculture technique with the greatest yield, income, and ecological sustainability for use with annual staple seed crops in my region is alley-cropping, or inter-planting between rows of perennial food and fertility (legumes such as locust, for example) crops, and as this is the only site where I have been granted permission to plant perennials, I will use this site to grow a small demonstration of alley-cropping with these staples. I will use remaining SARE funds for 50% of the cost of a very small number of perennials (hazelnuts, and raspberries, etc.), and the tools, amendments, and labor involved in planting them. I may also pay someone for a few hours of labor for perennial planting. All participants of last year’s field days and the rest of the public will be invited to take tours of this demonstration plot in order to learn about staple seed crop production and sustainable techniques.
I will continue to monitor the progress of quinoa to see if it will repeat last year’s disease problems. This crop will be left out of larger scale production until this problem is resolved.
2008: I have become a member of the Local Food Systems Collaborative (LFSC), a network of individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds, professions, and states (primarily Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) and presented my work on the collaborative’s site, www.localfoodsystems.org. In conjunction with this collaborative, I attended the 2nd Annual Ben Stinner Summit, and in addition to sharing information about this project, participated in the process of deciding this year’s focus for the collaborative, which turned out to be post harvest processing infrastructure, especially for grains and meats. It was also through this collaborative that the process of my receiving support from the Ben Stinner Endowment for Healthy Agro-Ecosystems and Sustainable Communities, to purchase equipment to scale up the staple seed project, was negotiated.
Two articles about the project have appeared in the local chapter of the Sierra Club, one in the spring, and one, on the front page, with pictures from the 2008 growing season, in the early winter.
In addition to the initial press releases announcing the grant award, the area’s most prominent newspaper, The Athens News, sent a writer and a photographer to two of my events and produced an excellent article about the project including a full front page picture of me scything
Later, in a special insert photograph issue in the same paper, the project was featured again by two different photographers, when I hosted children and teacher from a local preschool to thresh and winnow amaranth and beans.
Michelle Ajamian presented the project to an Ohio University Junior level writing class, and our field days were attended by an OU alternative agriculture class and by a Hocking College eco-tourism class. I also went to the alternative agriculture classes’ on-campus garden, which included some wheat and barley, presented on the project, instructed students on the use of scythes and shocking grain.
One of the participating sites, Currents Community, has both an inner-community and outer-community email listserv, through which I kept the public up to date on the project and advertised events.
I attended two local farm tours of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA) and informed farmers and consumers about the project. An OEFFA representative happened to be attending one of those, and he invited me to present at the 30th anniversary OEFFA Conference in Granville, OH, in February, which I did.
I also presented in the SARE space at the Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia, MO. Of course, at each of these conferences, much outreach and networking was done outside of the workshop rooms. For example, I have been asked by the Back 40 Book Group to compose a description of the project for their website. I have been keeping up the blog provided by SARE, which has had postings from writer Bill McKibben, as well as Jennifer Simon, then CEO of Athens Chamber of Commerce, now the President of the Athens County Economic Development Council. Thanks to Michelle Ajamian, the staple seed crop project now is represented on several other ning sites, such as the Open Roads Network and Transition Ohio.
I also attended SARE recipient, Chris Chmiel’s goat-milking event, and talked about my SARE project.
With so much commercial interest, I spent a lot of time in my kitchen, developing value-added recipes made of these crops, such as buckwheat/amaranth bunt cake, pancakes, crackers, and “corn” bread, popped amaranth suspended in a candied confection of locally produced honey and molasses, beans and millet, and quinoa tabouli. Samples of these dishes were tasted at numerous public events, field days, and potluck dinners, and the reviews were tremendous. Across the board, people loved the taste and the idea that the staple ingredients might one day be provided locally, and many wanted to know the recipes and when I would be marketing these products.
Events where these products were sampled included local Community Food Initiatives’ (CFI) Annual Benefit Dinner, to which I also donated a bouquet of amaranth flowers, which was auctioned off for a 45 dollar donation to the organization.
I later donated several bouquets to CFI’s farmers market stand, where children involved in the organization’s low-income youth garden program were selling their produce. They sold the bouquets at a competitive price, and they were very well received by buyers, including master gardeners and the Mayor of Athens.
In addition to the various events held at participating farms, and education about this project at the two permaculture circles of which two of the participating farms are members, I also attended the Annual CSA members event at Green Edge Gardens (one of the participating farms). The owner introduced me and my project, and interested parties approached me and asked to know more. Attendees also enjoyed a hayride behind a tractor, during which they were shown my test plots.
When the Village Bakery bought meal corn from our test plots, they advertised in their space to bring more participants out with them for the harvest, and then proceeded to specially make signs in tandem with the release of the resulting tortillas, commemorating the advent of local grain procurement in Athens. They have also hung enlarged photographs of the farm and events on the walls of their restaurants.
2009: I will continue to report to the Sierra Club’s Newsletter, as this has brought in several field day participants. I will also continue reporting updates to the Currents Community email list, and the LFSC website and listservs. The blog will be updated, as will the various nings.
The local public TV station, WOUB, has contacted me to set up a news story and interviews on the project once the growing season is in full swing, and local non-profit, Rural Action is in the process of composing reports on the Staple Seeds Project on their upcoming Foodshed website.
I am in direct communication with the several farmers and landowners that have taken interest in this project, and they will be attending demo events to learn about the process of small/commercial scale production of staple seed crops.
In partnership with Rural Action, I am planning an on-farm event with expert speakers (Rob Myers, perhaps), buyers, and farmers, to present information to farmers who are interested in staple seed crop production as an alternative portfolio. I have been told by the OSU Ag Extension Agent from the county just west of me, that several conventional farmers have begun to talk to him with interest in diversifying and transitioning to organic, and he feels that this project represents an opportunity for them.
Also in partnership with Rural Action and with several restaurants in Athens, we are planning a city-wide gala event to acknowledge the introduction of staple seed crops to our community’s local food diet.
Ohio University Botany and Alternative Ag professor, Art Trese, is dedicated to bringing his classes out to any events we host, and Rebecca Wood, Eco-Tourism Professor at Hocking College, wants to involve her students particularly in the Permaculture aspects of the project.