Grain Cleaning and Millet Project Event

Posted on

I definitely have Grain Lung: milled flour and grain chaff all in my respiratory system. I need to find respirator masks for my kind of face. I spent the weekend testing screens, shifting wind speed, cleaning scalpers. It feels good to take it through the whole process: from seed to sorter. Soon, to market!

Mustard seed and grain

On Sunday, I switched gears to talk about millet at the UC Berkeley Gill Tract. Julia and I talked about our organic, no-till techniques and shared in some millet-based foods. We saw how the millet could grow with irrigation, and whoo!, what a sight! Nice work, Millet Project!

Talking up grains while eating a millet burger
Japanese Millet
Pearl Millet

Feeling the Fall

Posted on

Wispy clouds creeped up from the horizon, covering the edges of the starry sky on my late night walk. Fall is moving in.

I started milling again.


Getting some dough back. Sonora and Red Fife grains made into bread:

Dave Miller-made
Hot Stuff!

This past week I cleaned sixteen pounds of grain by hand. It’s not that I’m a Luddite. I’m all for parsimonious use of machines, but I couldn’t get to a seed cleaner in the past few weeks what with all the smoke, evacuations, and now the grape harvest tying everyone up. So it was back to the hand for me.

How does one hand clean grain? With many buckets and wishes for wind. We transferred grains from one 5 gallon bucket to another so that the wind carried away big pieces of straw. Then, we sifted through fine sieves. And my fine fingers picked through the rest.

The finished product was wrapped up in brown paper packages tied up with strings because it’s one of someone’s favorite things. I brought the packages to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas as an offering during the Ullambana ceremony.

Food is central to Ullambana. It is the day to feed hungry ghosts. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, ancestors of the lower realm visit the living on the fifteenth night of the seventh month. No one gets to eat in the lower realm, as retribution for their wrongful deeds in life. The tradition to feed hungry ghosts originated with the story of Mục Kiền Liên, who wanted to spare his mother who was in the lower realm, with a narrow throat and big belly that couldn’t be sated, because she was greedy. Buddha designated this day as one where all hungry ghosts could come eat, so we offer food on this day. Good thing I’m a farmer!

The Vietnamese Buddhist tradition extends the story in two ways: generosity and filial affection. All the hungry are fed, particularly the homeless. And it is also Mother’s Day, wherein express appreciation for motherhood’s selfless acts. Those whose mothers still live wear a red rose over our hearts, those with mothers who’ve passed wear a white rose.

I often go to a Vietnamese temple on Ullambana, or what we call Le Vu Lan in Vietnamese, but not this year. I didn’t get to don a red rose, but I could feign her closeness by having a long phone conversation instead. Thank goodness for telecommunications!

… Especially after all the low-tech grain cleaning and subsequent conversation to mill at the SHED. I felt like a figment of the past or a parody of the present.

The Sky’s on Fire

Posted on

We live in a drought. Plants are drying up and making great kindling. While I sit in this inescapable smoke — coughing, wheezing, tearing up, I wonder if dry farming is enough to spare us from being set ablaze. I don’t irrigate because I want aquifers to be available for plants and animals that help maintain an ecosystem that won’t burn us up.

I’m just 5 acres. But what if everyone else didn’t irrigate? What if they also didn’t turn up the soil, releasing greenhouse gases that warm the planet? What if they didn’t use fertilizers made from burning and converting fossil fuels? What if we didn’t import 98% of our food and lowered transportation emissions? I wonder if that would spare us from slow asphyxiation.


Posted on

I’ve since grown out of mourning the loss of the grains and of feeling dissed. Ultimately, it’s expected for some crops to be lost during harvest and the grain harvester didn’t have any ill will and simply made a mistake. We’re all learning.

This year was a toughie. On top of the tribulations of starting a new farm, business, and set of relationships, this year was the driest in California’s recorded history. That’s hard for dry farming — relying only on rainfall for water. I’m trying to farm in a way that doesn’t stress our dwindling resources, but that means crops get stressed and yield less than the kind of agriculture that takes water away from everyone and everything. But I want to leave water for my neighbors, of human, animal, and plant kind. There’s so little to go around nowadays.

I want to minimize importing nutrients. When we import, the greenhouse gases emitted increase the problems we’re trying to mitigate. But producing nutrients locally takes time. I’m starting with the straw left my the grains. On that I’ll layer wood chips and grape pumice from nearby farms and vineyards. The mycelium from the grape pumice will help decompose the wood chips. Without rain, it may take years, but this is an important foundation. It’ll retain moisture that will be essential for farming. We must be patient if we want to eat and to grow food without adding to the problems that leave us parched and hungry.

There’s still much to do with little time. Onwards!