How to Get Cheap Wheat

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  1. Robots The highest costs for any business is labor. There’s the wages, workers’ compensation, liability insurance, health coverage, and then all the time spent filling out paperwork. If you take out the people, you take out many of your costs. You don’t need to worry about these rising minimum wage laws.
  2. Cheap energy for machinery and fertilizer. Fossil fuels are subsidized and are turned into nitrogen-dense fertilizers. Don’t worry about the excess nitrogen, it’ll runoff downstream.
  3. Go big. Planting hundreds of acres of one crop makes it easier to harvest with one machine. You don’t have to switch machines or even headers. Even though you won’t have any nutrients in the soil, at least you have all that cheap fertilizer (see #2).
  4. Herbicides. Reducing weed pressure gains higher yields in the field and also makes cleaning the wheat berries faster (see #1). Spray the whole field with RoundUp for a clean slate.
  5. Homogeneity If all your crops ripen at one time, you don’t have to monitor the fields and make multiple trips. Spray them with RoundUp (or glyphosphate) and they’ll ripen at the same time. Good thing you stocked up dung step 4.
  6. High yields per acre. Select modern varieties that have short stature so the carbon goes to the grain seed, and ones that produce multiple and long heads per plant. You can’t save the seed and pass them to someone else, and they may be taken off the market at any time. But when you get grains from seed companies, you don’t have to store them yourself!
  7. Water heavily. The more water you use, the faster they’ll grow.
  8. Extend dry shelf life. Remove all the parts of the grain that can go rancid so that they can sit on a store shelf, unrefrigerated for a long time. The bran and germ contain oils that will spoil, so get rid of them.
  9. Subsidies. Get everyone else to pay for this.
  10. Don’t tell anyone what you’ve done.

This is how we have the cheap commodity wheat on our shelves. This system took out the flavor and nutrients so we are left with the starch and simple carbohydrates that make us ill. This system depletes our natural resources and replaces them with poison and pollution. It’s cheap because the health and environmental costs have been pushed onto the public. This system is for profit, not for people.

This is what I think about any time someone says that my wheat prices are high. I am growing an entirely different crop. The methods, varieties, and integrity are completely different. What I grow aren’t nameless, faceless byproducts of a capitalist food system. I put care into cultivation so that carbon is captured and stored, into planting with the rain no matter how unpredictable, and into compensating contractors so that they can eat, sleep, and live well. I use precious land in CA high rral estate economy to grow out rare grains for the commons. It’s offensive when well-to-do supposed health-conscious, environmentally-minded people complain about my prices. It’s like telling a skilled carpenter that their tables should cost the same as Walmart’s. What’s the price of integrity, transparency, and trust? What’s the value of environmental stewardship?

Under the Trump administration, we’ve seen a complete disregard for climate change. Farming is one of the main contributors to climate change. We need farmers who farm with our ecosystem and future in mind, especially when the government has neglected it.

Part of how we got here, this efficient way of producing empty calories and unhealthy food, is the mechanization of processes.These machines also displaced labor and yielded a large unemployed populous. I talked with some of these farmers in Cascadia earlier this month. They’re angry and want someone to bring back these jobs. So they voted for Trump.

The industrial food system hasn’t only put out unhealthy food and toxic landscapes, but also a divisive political environment. Let’s rehumanize agriculture.

I’m a real person. Please don’t mistake my work for the industrial waste that surrounds us. I grew this food for you, I grew them this way for your grandchildren.  You can know your farmer: me.

Grains on Film

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The National Young Farmers Coalition is making a short trailer on 3 young grain farmers, and I’m one of them. Jess and Jay of Thrive Consulting were great to work with through the weekend to highlight what it takes to grow heritage grains and be a grain farmer.

They sent me a teaser and it’s beautifully shot and edited! Need a videographer for a good social cause? Hit them up.

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California Grains on Instagram

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Follow the the California Grain Campaign on Instagram! @CAGrainCampaign. And any time you use California whole grains in your food, you can tag #CAGrainCampaign. You can follow the highlights and drama in real time. Here’s a preview:

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Torrance Farmers’ Market (photo credit: Stella Kalinina)
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Flat tire at Torrance Farmers Market

Cascadia Grains Conference

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Reporting from the Pacific Northwest, where it’s 20-ish degrees. I’m freezing my toes off! It’s not just because I’m from California. I walked into the equipment tour barn and found 40 shivering PNW farmers.

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It’s wonderful to see the array of combines, seed drills, cleaners, and mills and to hear from the far. Dang, they have a plethora of cheap grain equipment up here. I think I’m farming in the wrong place.

I’m at this conference because I was invited to talk about seed sourcing and raising consumer awareness about local grains. The organizers heard about the California Grain Catalog that I created, called me up, and we talked about the California grain scene. They were interested in my citizen science seed saving work, as well as the grain campaign and grain talks I frequently give.

The seed sourcing talk will be the retelling of an old story, a 10,000 year old story. And the campaign and catalog will be a story as well as a call to collaborative action. Don’t worry, I’m not giving too much away so you should still come by if you’re near.

So far, I’ve been impressed by the turn-out, resources, number of researchers, and overall dedication to local grains in Washington. We should create this here. Let’s do it!