At one time, every community in the country produced its own grain.
Hi. I’m Richard Knapp, founder of Central Missouri Grains for Food.
Since childhood I have been fascinated by cooking: even managed to master a few simple dishes but knew nothing about baking. In order to motivate myself in that direction, I built a wood-fired brick oven at my home in 2002. The local foods movement was taking off around then, so, it occurred to me that I might use local wheat to mill the flour for my bread. Margot McMillen of the Missouri Grain Project – had been working on food grains in central Missouri for years but was not able to grow bread wheat here at a commercially workable rate, though she had some luck with soft wheat. So, was there any local bread wheat in central Missouri?
I did some research and found that the U of MO Cooperative Extension has grown hard red winter wheat successfully in several locations around the state, and they do this experiment with different varieties every few years. The Extension does not grow organically, though, and that was what I was interested in learning about. So I thought I would have to try it myself and get the information firsthand.
My idea was to approach an organic farmer I know, Paul Lehmann, and ask him to grow 2 acres of wheat, 1 of rye, and 1 of barley, for which I would pay him up front, so there was no risk for him. When I asked him about the 4 acres, he said, “How about 30?” I suddenly found myself in the grain business on a much larger scale than the little experiment I had initially planned. Anticipating a yield much more extensive than I could use myself, I began to think of how I could sell it and, at some point, it occurred to me that flour would be much easier to sell than wheat berries, so I started looking into purchasing a mill and some land to build a mill and warehouse building on. This later became the barn.
Our First Season:
For wheat, the single most important factor in determining yield is an early planting date but we were not ready in time for this. Tractors were not running well – or at all – and Paul has a walnut business that demanded his attention just when we should be preparing the field, and planting. So I went out to his place in Howard County often and worked on the tractors. Eventually, Paul and I drove out to an organic farm he knows of through his role as an organic farm inspector. This farm is in north central Kansas. We loaded up my pickup and his trailer with 3 tons of seed wheat in 50-pound bags and started back to Missouri. We got 50 miles from his farm when a tire blew out on the trailer. Found a place to park the trailer and finished the drive in the pickup at midnight.
The next day I drove on to Margot McMillen’s and dropped off the wheat I had purchased for her, then went on to Larry Schrock’s (an organic seed cleaner) in Middletown to pick up the barley and rye seed. All in all, two days and over 1200 miles. I can’t remember if there was any more work on the tractors, but soon I was discing the 30 acres, and at the very last minute weather-wise, Paul planted the grain (about Nov 10). It came up before the ground froze, so we were optimistic until the spring, when it showed yellow, indicating a lack of nitrogen. I dearly hoped it would outgrow this problem. Update: it does seem to be overcoming this problem. The Rye is doing really well. Not so the barley.