This is not a Christmas story exactly, but it makes a wonderful way to pass along glad tidings of the year. Brock McLeod and Heather Walker operate Makaria Farm in Duncan, British Columbia (www.makariafarm.com) and what they have been doing the past two years is just eye-poppingly, unbelievably, overwhelmingly, audaciously amazing. They decided to take small scale grain raising to the very high level of accomplishment— beyond the wildest dreams I had when I wrote my book by that name.
They recently sent me a sort of homemade scrapbook telling the story of their adventures with small scale grain, complete with pictures. Once they realized that it was not that difficult to make their own bread from scratch— the ultimate scratch of growing the grain and grinding the flour, their imagination and vitality went into overdrive. They already ran a CSA and raised fruit along with seasonal vegetables, so adding grain to their farming menu was just another step up the ladder. What makes their grain adventure so endearing is that they involved the community of people around their farm. They started “Island Grains” and invited others to learn about small scale grain-raising with them. Fifty signed up with another twenty on the wait list. They tried to get me to come out for the first workshop but since I no longer can do much long distance travel, they looked around in their own neighborhood for experts, which is always the best thing to do anyway. They got Robert Giardino of the Heritage Grains Foundation to speak about ancient vs. modern grains at the first workshop. (I am reading from Brock and Heather’s scrapbook.) He brought along cooked emmer grains for them to try. Helen Reid taught them how she grows quinoa. Don Jason of Salt Spring Seeds demonstrated his homemade threshing box. There’s a photo of the open wooden box, about a foot by three feet in size, (I’m guessing from the photo) — simplicity itself. You just put some stalks of ripe grain in it and tromp the heck out of them, reminiscent of the way farmers for centuries walked their horses over grain stalks scattered on their barn floors. I was just so taken by the ingenuity of these people! I got to imagining dancing a little jig in the box while threshing out the grain, like people have done for ages mashing grapes for wine in a barrel. During that first meeting, demonstrating how easy growing grain can sometimes be, Dan Jason pointed out that Brock and Heather already had some growing on their farm and were hardly aware of it. Brock had planted rye for green manure. Now he let it grow to seed and harvested rye grain for the first time.
At the second workshop, Tom Henry, one of the few farmers on Vancouver Island who owned a combine, taught the “grainies” as they were calling themselves, how to plant little plots of grain. Mike Doehnel, who has done grain trials on Vancouver Island with a special interest in malt barleys, also attended the workshop. Each grainie was given a 200 square foot strip of soil to practice grain growing. Some brought family and friends to share the work. Brock and Heather’s photos show that the grains grew marvelously.
Harvest came. Down those beautiful golden strips of grain, the “grainies” went with scythe and sickle. There’s a picture of Brock scything, and of course I welled up a little in tears (at my age it is very easy to weep at almost anything), remembering how my publisher used a photo of myself on the back cover of the first edition, scything my strip of wheat all those many years ago. There’s also a picture in the scrapbook of a very comely young lassie (as in the old song, “Comin’ Through The Rye”) cutting grain with a sickle. If we had had that picture to put on the back of my book it would have sold a whole lot more copies.
Another precious detail. Lacking grain sacks, these modern “grainies” took their harvested crop home in pillow cases!!!! Ain’t life wonderful? Merry Christmas everyone!