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Homegrown Grains: The Key to Food Security

OK, you've mastered tomatoes and peppers -- but how about learning how to grow grains in your own yard?

The following is an excerpt from Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers, Second Edition by Gene Logsdon. It has been adapted for the Web.

I remember the first year we grew grains in our garden. A good gardening buddy dropped by one day early in July just when our wheat was ripe and ready to harvest. He didn’t know that though. His reason for stopping was to show me two splendid, juicy tomatoes picked ripe from his garden. After a few ritual brags -- and knowing full well that my tomatoes were still green -- he asked me in a condescending sort of way what was new in my garden. I remembered the patch of ripe wheat.

"Oh, nothing much," I answered nonchalantly, "except the pancake patch."

"The pancake patch?" he asked incredulously.

"Yeah. Sure. Until you’ve tasted pancakes fresh from the garden, you haven’t lived."

"And where might I find these pancakes growing?" he queried sarcastically, to humor my madness.

"Right up there behind the chicken coop in that little patch of wheat. All you have to do is thresh out a cupful or two, grind the grain in the blender, mix up some batter and into the skillet. Not even Aunt Jemima in all her glory can make pancakes like those."

My friend didn’t believe me until I showed him, step by step. We cut off a couple of armloads of wheat stalks, flailed the grain from the heads onto a piece of clean cloth (with a plastic toy ball bat), winnowed the chaff from the grain, ground the grain to flour in the blender, made batter, and fried pancakes. Topped them with real maple syrup. Sweet ecstasy. My friend forgot all about his tomatoes. The next year, he invited me over for grain sorghum cookies, proudly informing me that grain sorghum flour made pastries equal to, if not better than, whole wheat flour. Moreover, grain sorghum was easier to thresh. I had not only made another convert to growing grains in the garden, but one who had quickly taught me something.

Grow Your Own Grains

The reason Americans find it a bit weird to grow small plots or rows of grain in gardens is that they are not used to thinking of grains as food directly derived from plants, the way they view fruits and vegetables. The North American, unlike most of the world’s peoples, especially Asians and Africans, thinks grain is something manufactured in a factory somewhere. Flour is to be purchased like automobiles and pianos. Probably this attitude came from the practice of hauling grains to the gristmill in past agrarian times. Without the convenience of small power grinders and blenders of today, overworked housewives of earlier times were only too glad to have hubby haul the grain to the gristmill. And that gave him an excuse to sit around all day at the mill talking to his neighbors.

But even with the advent of convenient kitchen aids to make grain cookery easier, the American resists. He will work hard at the complex task of making wine -- seldom with a whole lot of success -- but will not grind whole wheat or corn into nutritious meal, a comparatively easy task. I know, because I was that way myself. Until I saw with my own eyes that a good ten-speed blender or kitchen mill could turn grain into flour, I hesitated. Now it boggles my mind to remember that for most of my life I lived right next to acres and acres of amber waves of grain, where combines made the threshing simplicity itself, and yet our family always bought all our meal and flour.

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