June 1, 2010

Threshing 3.0

One of the casualties of the centralization and industrialization of agriculture over the last 60 or 70 years is that of small, diversified farms growing small acreages of grains. Time was when nearly all farms grew a few acres of oats, wheat and barley. The farmer's family and his livestock were fed from the grain grown right on the farm. Now the growing of grains has, for the most part, been concentrated into certain favorable geographic regions, and has adopted the use of giant machines and mountains of chemicals.
The small farm resurgence that the country is currently enjoying is an exciting thing to witness, with its' invigoration of local food economies. One thing missing from this new farm momentum, however, is the growing of small grains. A lack of small scale harvesting and threshing equipment is partly to blame. There are simply very few options for the small farmer to efficiently and economically harvest and thresh grain. One must look oversees, to Asia for example, where there is still a strong culture of small scale grain growing; or one must look to the past and try to find and restore the machines which formed the backbone of the American farm economy from the 1850's to the late 1940's.
I realized years ago that to truly create self sustaining operation a farm must grow it's own grains rather than buying them at the local feed store. It has been a long time coming, but finally this last month we threshed the grain we grew and harvested last summer.
We harvested the oats and rye using a McCormick-Deering 7' binder, which cuts the grain and ties it in sheaves which are in turn stacked by hand into shocks in the field. We acquired a very fine 28"x 48" McCormick stationary threshing machine and a beautiful Farmall Super M to power it with. After meticulously evaluating and rejuvinating every function of the thresher we were finally able to fire it up and feed it some bundles of grain last month. The result, after much trial and error, was 36 bags of grain stored in the loft of the barn ready to feed to ourselves and our stock.
Just last weekend we used our new hand cranked roller from Lehman's to roll our own oats. Honestly, I was shocked at the incredibly rich taste of the homegrown oats- almost as much difference as a carrot or tomato from the store when compared to those fresh from the garden.