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Finding Beauty in Processing Grain

By Sarah Merfeld

Grain consumption and production is embedded in the ethos of our species. Agriculture began with cultivated grains around an estimated 10,000 years ago. Throughout history grains have been a staple in our diet; every culture uses some grain as a primary caloric source. Today, grains comprise 50% of the average diet across the globe.

At AMI the majority of what we eat is food that we have grown and preserved, though we do buy some grains -- wheat flour, oats, rice, and barley -- to bulk up our diet. If we wanted to grow all the grain that we consume it would take a huge amount of manual labor to process those crops. We do not have the large mechanical implements that modern day grain producers use to make it an economically viable endeavor. Instead, we chose to grow eight 50ft beds of wheat and barley to familiarize ourselves with the plants that we rely upon so heavily for our sustenance. It is humbling to see how little usable grain we will reap from a relatively large portion of our garden space.

I have been struck by the aesthetics of the small-scale and non-mechanical processing of grain. Processing grain using only our hands, scythes, twine, and make-shift winnows connects us to our agricultural roots and restores our intimacy with these plants which are staples to our lifestyle.

We began by cutting the wheat and barley at the base of their stalk with scythes and harvest knifes.

Next, we made the harvested grain into “shocks” and tyed them together with twine.

The shocks of wheat and barley will fully dry in our farmhouse before the grain can be extracted.

The next step will be to thresh the shocks so that the edible part of the grain separates from the inedible chaff. We will just beat the shocks in order to loosen the wheat berries. From there we will winnow the grain to remove the final chaff from the edible portion. The chaff is much lighter than the grain and you can simply toss the chaff and grain mixture into the air and the lighter sediment blows away and the heavier grain falls back into your vessel.

Now the barley is ready to be cooked or brewed into beer and then we can use our bike powered grinder to create ready to use ground wheat.

The amount of grain that we will reap from this process will only be a drop in the bucket of what we will consume in our six months on the mountain. Yet, I believe this process plays a key role in our understanding of where our food comes from. It reminds us that there is value in stepping away from a production based mindset and in doing small things beautifully. The bread that will rise from the wheat grown in the field will certainly nourish our souls as well as our bodies.

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