Wheat for the World: Remembering the First International Conference of Wheat Landraces

First International Conference of Wheat Landraces

The First International Conference of Wheat Landraces for Healthy Food Systems is now history—an idea that came to life 3 years ago was finally realized in Italy at the thousand-year-old University of Bologna. (Check out my opening address below for the whole story of how this historical event began.) We had 125 delegates from countries all over the world in attendance and it was enormously satisfying to see the conference come together with so many people who brought so much to educate and inspire us.

For the first time, we brought together researchers, farmers, millers and bakers from all over the world, with an interest in wheat landraces and health. We had the great pleasure to hear from 28 guest speakers, as well as 24 presenters—that’s a lot of shared information! So many amazing people made this idea a reality but one in particular deserves special tribute: our conference coordinator, Emanuela. She worked tirelessly to pull the conference together and make it the success we enjoyed earlier this month.

The conference exceeded my expectations in every way. It was a bonus that it was also great fun! Over the course of the three-day conference, we achieved several goals (as seen on the conference website). Here are a few:

  • “We had the opportunity to exchange ideas and during our field day, we were able to view many of the wheat landraces growing side by side that were sent in by the delegates.
  • New ideas and thoughts were stimulated especially during our open session discussing ideas for definition of terms common to our work but not well defined.
  • We voted overwhelmingly (more than 90%) to have another conference in 2 years and to unite our efforts throughout the world by creating a new association.”

This incredibly memorable event was the third on my final checklist of big projects to complete before I retire. It’s a three-year retirement plan and I’m only 6 months into the first year. Not bad! The other two projects I’ve completed are the successful release of our KAMUT® story film (coming soon!) and leasing our family farm to the next generation of organic farmers. Each project has come with its own sense of achievement and satisfaction but I think it’s both the scientist and the wheat farmer in me that relishes the success of this conference. The opportunity to learn and share from people all over the globe is unparalleled. But perhaps one of my favorite parts of this experience is that all that information—every inspiring speaker, every presentation and discussion—is available to anyone anywhere in the world. If you want a glimpse into the future of healthy food production—and an alternative to industrial agriculture and processing—I invite you to check out the website, watch the videos and join us in the movement for healthy #wheatfortheworld.

New Hope Network – Amazing Grains: What’s Ancient is Now New

“The re-emergence of so-called ancient grains, including pseudo grains such as quinoa and amaranth, are pushing into the mainstream market, turning the amber waves of grain into a multi-hued tsunami. The rise of old wheat varieties is also contributing to the growing tidal wave, spilling into related issues of sustainability, organics and regenerative agriculture.

Our ability to feed the world and nurture the planet need not be mutually exclusive. Wouldn’t it be amazing if grains were part of the solution that helps cure the human health epidemic and nourishes the Earth in the process? In other words, can we have our organic cake and eat it, too?”

Download this free report to learn more here.

Allison’s Garden-Fresh Salsa

With the weather finally starting to feel like spring, I think fresh fruits and veggies are on everybody’s mind. Maybe that’s why May is also National Salsa Month? Whatever the reason, my eldest daughter, Allison, makes a deliciously mild fresh salsa to help satisfy those fruit and vegetable cravings.

A good homemade salsa can be used for more than a rejuvenating afternoon snack or evening appetizer. You can add it to your favorite omelet in the morning or even use it as a fresh alternative to salad dressing. I myself use it as a flavorful topping over boiled Painted Mountain corn, which we grow here on the farm. Covered with my favorite organic cheese, I pop the whole thing in the oven until the cheese has melted and voila!

However you use your salsa, I think you’ll really enjoy this Quinn family favorite.

Allison’s Garden-Fresh Salsa

3 large ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon vinegar

Combine onion, garlic and fresh cilantro. Add lime juice, sugar, salt, cumin, oregano and vinegar. Mix well. Remove seeds and chop tomatoes to desired thickness. Chill at least 2 hours to blend flavors.

For a thinner, restaurant style salsa, do not remove tomato seeds and use a food processor or blender.

A Farmer Forever: Letting Go and New Beginnings

More than 50 years have elapsed since I graduated from Big Sandy High School and 42 years since I finished my college education. But it was 40 years ago that my wife and I, and our 3 daughters (at the time), moved back to the family farm where both my father and I were raised. It’s hard to believe that in just two years’ time, the farm will celebrate its 100th anniversary—one hundred years since the marriage of my grandparents, Emmet and Alice Quinn in 1920, when they started the farm, and their family, together. For me, 2018 marks the beginning of a series of transitions, passing on many of the opportunities, from which I have benefited, to the next generation.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many businesses and ventures: Quiger Laboratory and Valley Toxicology in California, WindPark Solutions America here in Montana, and Montana Flour and Grains. And more currently: Kamut International, The Oil Barn®, Big Sandy Organics (Kracklin’ Kamut®), and of course, Quinn Farm and Ranch, all here in my hometown of Big Sandy, Montana. Each unique enterprise gave me the opportunity to make my mark and I look forward to turning them over to the next generation of good people. Currently, I am four months into my three-year transition to retirement—which may sound like a long time, but there’s still a lot to do. And I can’t really just give someone two-weeks’ notice.

The first phase of my retirement transition took place in April, which involved the bittersweet lease of my family farm to two bright and energetic young men: my former farm manager, Seth Goodman, and Chad Fasteson. Both, as you know, have been working with me for a few years and I have tried to teach them everything I know about organic farming on the northern great plains. I know they will do a great job and that they, and their families, will continue to enrich the community I still call home.

This particular transition, as I mentioned, is bittersweet. Taking a step back from the farm when it’s been such a central part of my life for so many years is quite hard. But it’s also a great joy to see young families join the community with the same enthusiasm of youth that I remember having when I returned home all those years ago. I look forward to the next three years and I will, of course, continue to keep you posted with each phase of my retirement transition—large and small.

For now, please join me in wishing Seth and Chad the very best as they begin their own organic farming endeavor as partners in their Sand Coulee Farm and Ranch enterprise.

Organic Farming: A Model for Best Business Practices

Every parent likes to brag about their kids! And even though mine are all grown and married, I still enjoy every opportunity to share in their accomplishments. My son, Adam, is a senior studying food science at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. He recently wrote the following article, which was published in one of the university’s school newsletters and I thought he captured the topic quite well. Enjoy!

ORGANIC FARMING: A MODEL FOR BEST BUSINESS PRACTICES

by Adam Quinn

Americans are eating organic food more now than ever before. In a survey conducted by Pew Research, in the past 30 days, 68% of households reported purchasing food that was labeled as organic. This impressive trend is less impactful though since, according to BFG (a brand consultancy), out of the 70% of shoppers who buy organic food, only 20% were able to define the meaning of the term “organic.” Although we as Americans are purchasing organic food more often, we are largely ignorant to what differentiates these products.

The organic system of farming has been developed to combine the best practices of the past with emerging knowledge and technology of the present. These best practices are not only based in good science, but also great business strategy.

An organic farming system applies best business practices by diversifying to minimize risk, increasing control of inputs, and investing in current assets. All of these activities help to ensure the sustainability of the food that we eat.

Diversification of Activities

All industries face a certain level of risk from economic uncertainties and changing consumer demands, but farming often deals with the addition of natural problems such as pests, disease, and unpredictable weather patterns. Crop rotation and diversification are age-old ideas that can decrease the chances of a total crop failure. Crop rotation is practiced by changing what crop is planted in the same area each season. Diversification comes by increasing the variety of crops that are grown. The combination of these two principles has been used in the past to hedge against the unique risks that farmers face.

Diversification and crop rotations are fundamental principles within organic agriculture; the main body of current research has this as its focus. In the last century, advances in technology and industrialization have shifted the common practices of farmers so that these methods are not a focus. In a comparison study of farming systems, Barbieri et al. reported, “Crop rotations have been dramatically simplified over the past 50 years (e.g., through the reduced number of crop species in crop rotations…) due to the advent of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”

The 20th century saw a rapid adoption of these new technologies that farmers accepted as the silver bullet for their problems. But like many things that seem too good to be true, these “advances” were a step in the wrong direction, one case being weed management. Similar to the way modern medicine now faces the threat of “superbugs,” or antibioticresistant pathogens, chemical agriculture has led to the development of “superweeds” and pests that are resistant to pesticides.

Instead of participating in a chemical arms-race against weeds, organic farmers have maintained their focus on the concept of diversification. Diversification has several other key advantages in agriculture:

  • It decreases the risk of total crop failure.
  • It increases the overall yields of the crops.
  • It keeps farms flexible to the changes of consumer preference.

Clearly, the phrase “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” has not been forgotten by organic farmers.

Controlling Inputs

Organic farming is sometimes called low-input farming because it prohibits the input of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farmers compensate for the lack of these inputs through greater labor and management expenditures.

Farmers can use several different methods to reduce expenditures on external products. Instead of buying synthetic fertilizers, they can grow legumes that build nitrogen in the soil (this is known as green manure). Careful observation and crop management can replace the need for chemical pesticides. The organic system also encourages farmers to save their seed from harvest to harvest. This way the crops can adapt to the local environment, and farmers can avoid everchanging costs from seed suppliers.

If farmers can increase their control over inputs, they can then better control expenses.

Investing in Current Assets

For farmers, the soil is their greatest asset. The Organic Trade Association states that organic farming begins with “practices to help build healthy soils, which nurture the plants and help decrease the incidence of plant disease.” The principle behind this is that if you feed the soil, the soil will feed the plants and the plants will feed you. Chemical agriculture focuses on delivering as much nitrogen as possible to the crops through the use of synthetic fertilizers, in effect attempting to feed the plants directly, rather than the soil. The practice of building healthy soil is more expensive, but it can pay great dividends in the future.

In normal conditions, the high availability of nitrogen in chemical farms results in higher yields when compared to organic farms. However, in times of great stress in the crops (e.g. drought) the results are reversed. The Rodale Institute, which conducts agriculture research, explains in their published research why this is the case. Several factors can explain this change, one being that organic farming focuses on increasing organic material in the soil which leads to greater water retentions and increased microbiome health.

Conclusion

While the organic farming system is not perfect, we need to be able see its power. An article in the Huffington Post comes to this same conclusion:

“Organic agriculture shows significant promises in many areas. We would be foolish not to consider it an important tool in developing more sustainable global agriculture.” – Huffington Post

The success that the organic industry has seen attests to the soundness of the business practices that it follows.

Stubble, Stalks & Snow Fences: Keeping Moisture in the Fields

It should come as no surprise that moisture is always a concern in dryland farming, most especially on the semi-arid plains of northern Montana. During the spring, we pray for steady, frequent rains—heavy downpours or cloud bursts can bring rain down faster than the soil can absorb. (Though, it should be said, since our conversion to organic, the water absorption in our fields has increased!) During the winter, we pray for snow. Snow insulates our winter crops from the bitter cold and, of course, provides moisture when it melts in the spring. But on the wide-open prairie, snow will go where the wind takes it. Organic agriculture, at its most basic, is a farmer’s attempt at emulating nature. While there’s not much we can do about the rare torrential rainfall here on the farm, nature gives us clues on how to outsmart the wind and keep the snow that does fall on us—an important contributor to moisture for the next growing season—in our fields.

Here on the farm, there are grasslands as far as the eye can see in almost every direction. The prairie isn’t some barren desert. Grass provides resistance, it’s nature’s way of keeping both soil and moisture on the plains. Cultivated fields are not naturally occurring and if they are left completely bare, they offer no resistance against wind and water erosion. And no farmer wants to lose the soil that took thousands of years to accumulate.

Stubble—the short, dry stalks of the crop left in the field after harvest—provide excellent erosion resistance. Not only does stubble help protect the soil from wind and water erosion, it helps to keep at least some snowfall from blowing away. Which means more moisture in your fields come spring. And around here, that’s always good news!

But sometimes leaving stubble in a field isn’t an option. Sometimes cultivating a field in the fall is necessary. If we have a severe weed problem, for instance—we never want to let weeds to go to seed. Or, if we’re incorporating plants into the soil from a green manure field. In that case we will till the field as a normal part of our crop rotation. And while all the organic material, like leaves and stems, helps bind the soil together providing protection from wind and water erosion, it doesn’t help much with snow catch. This past fall, Charley had some concerns along these lines. The field where he’ll be planting this year’s corn patch had been recently tilled to incorporate a cover crop of peas. There was little stubble on the surface, and after the dry season we had last summer, moisture was in short supply. But, as the old English proverb reminds us, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Charley’s solution was a few strategically-placed snow fences, and boy, did he pick a good year for that experiment! The snow fences are 4-feet tall and have nearly disappeared beneath all the snow we’ve received this winter.

Thoughtful preparations in the fall to catch snow can mean the difference of several inches of snow—or in our case this year, several feet! Here on the farm, last year’s corn patch, with its stalks still in the field, have more than a foot of snow. Whereas the neighboring field, which we tilled in the fall, has no more than a couple inches and in some places, you can see the soil. After such a dry season last year, I am very grateful for all the snow this winter and hope it will melt slowly and all soak in, providing lots of moisture for the coming spring.