As a young farmer who grew up in a city, I get the opportunity to discover agriculture anew, to figure out systems, new to me, that humans have been using for thousands of years.Â This year’s experiment is small-scale grain production.
I finished my wheat harvest in the first week of July, and it was exciting, surprising, and a lot of work, both mentally and physically, to figure out how to get flour from a grass. There are many steps to this process that I had not experienced prior to this adventure.Â The first was using a scythe.Â What a dance!
Keeping the tool sharp and close to the ground, sweeping the blade across the wheat with a rock of my hips, it was a challenge to make the cut straw fall with the heads of wheat all pointed in the same direction.Â Despite my inexperience, I was able to cut my 20×20 foot patch in a matter of minutes, gather it into bundles, and transport to my porch, where it sat and dried, waiting for the next step.
Threshing was the big challenge.Â I know that people who grow wheat on a larger scale would want to have a threshing floor, where they can beat the wheat and let the berries fly out of the hulls, to be swept up later.
I don’t have a threshing floor, though, so I decided that I would rather trample my wheat in tubs, where I wouldn’t have to worry about the berries going every which way.Â I was able to gather a group of eager adventurers to help me pop the heads off of all the wheat, throw them into tubs, and then to stomp barefoot on top of them.Â The berries popped out of their hulls, some more eagerly than others, and after aggressive stomping for about five minutes we were ready to winnow a tub. Winnowing is one of the most romantic images I can think ofâ€”I imagine women in India or Ethiopia tossing baskets of wheat up into the wind, letting the chaff fly away while the berries fall back into the basket.Â It’s a process that requires patience and skill.
I’ll admit it:Â I used a fan.Â Less patience and less skill are necessary.Â I took the threshed tub of wheat and slowly poured it into a bowl, letting the stream of wheat and chaff pass through my electric-powered wind.Â It is amazing and magical that it actually does work!Â There was a great pile of chaff on my porch, and wheat berries in my bowl.Â I poured and re-poured in front of the fan, scooping out the heads that had not shed all their berries, setting them aside for another threshing.Â Once I had no more chaff flying out of my wheat berry stream, I poured the grain into my jar. I ended up with something like 2 gallons of wheat berries, maybe 14 pounds.
I honestly don’t know how much wheat I should have been able to produce from my plot, but I do know that it is a satisfying feeling to plunge my hands into a gallon jar of wheat, knowing that I planted it, harvested it, threshed and winnowed it, and that I am now going to grind it (with a Lehman’s grain mill of course!) and turn it into food for myself, my friends, and my neighbors.Â And now that I know the hours of work that went into my small harvest of wheat, I can truly appreciate the hard work of the people through the ages who have relied on grain crops for their sustenanceâ€”and as my neighbor rolls down the hill in his combine full of wheat, I can be grateful that so many good people are in the business of feeding people.