Learning from the Best

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What an honor to be with 50 of our California grain farmers and researchers for a beautiful day on the farm! People came from up and down the state, as far south as Santa Barbara and as far north as Modoc County. Rain-fed, organic, biodynamic, irrigated, rotationally managed, biointensive, and many farming practices were represented in a space to share what we’ve learned in our short time on this earth.

This is the start of a new kind of agriculture, a new food system that’s biodiverse and accountable to local eaters and environs.

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Jared Zystro of the Organic Seed Alliance on seed selection
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Talking equipment
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100% Sonora loaves by Revolution Bread

Pizza! Pizza!

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The Grain Campaign is blowing up! Hundreds of people signed their names in support of this effort to get all California farmers’ markets to require vendors use 20% local, whole grain by 2020. More and more market managers are joining our efforts, particularly in Northern California. When I spoke at EcoFarm last week, our grain panel was packed!

To keep up this good work, of letting people know how they can get the whole grain they’ve missed out on their whole lives, we need some dough. This is a volunteer-based education campaign and someone has to pay for the printing, driving to markets, and buying grains to sample. So, we’re going to make some dough! Pizza dough, that is.

Learn how to make pizza AND support the California Grain Campaign at this Gourmandise School class. The syllabus is:

Whole Grain Pizza Dough (meet the farmers who grow the wheat)!

White Pizza with Roasted Potatoes and Kale

Freshly Made Burrata with Organic Pastures Raw Milk

Pork Belly Pizza featuring Peads and Barnett’s Pork

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!

Get Farmer Mai Grains @ The King’s Roost

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Farmer Mai Red Fife available at The King’s Roost located at 3732 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026. There’s parking in the back and you can get these whole grains milled on site! While you’re there, check out their selection of DIY tools and workshops.

Hurry and you can get some for your holiday baking!

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Enthusiastic promotion of flour!
Fresh flour from the King's Roost mill
Fresh flour from the King’s Roost mill