Organic farming is all about experimenting and learning what works best for your area, your land and, of course, for you. Sometimes, experimentation is done simply to satisfy a curiosity rather than discovering a new way of doing things. Here at the farm, it’s no different and that experimental mindset can be contagious. This year, during our Kamut® grain harvest, my son Adam was curious how long it would take to harvest enough grain to make a single loaf of bread… by hand. A homemade loaf of Kamut® requires about three cups of grain. The question was an insightful as well as intriguing and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud that he’d not only thought of it but wanted to see it through.
To start, Adam had to cut the wheat and doing it by hand meant he had to park the combine and pull out the scythe. Our scythe has a 24-inch blade and it has a more modern light aluminum handle on it. Even with the lighter handle, there’s nothing quite so exhausting as swinging that around for a while in the hot August sun. No more air conditioned cabs, this was hard labor which also required a little skill to develop the right swing and the right angle for the cut.
While cutting Adam would stop every so often to use a good old fashioned pitchfork to move the cut wheat to a garden cart. This was to avoid stomping on the cut stalks and losing the precious grain while harvesting.
Once the garden cart was full, Adam set the scythe and pitchfork aside and hauled the cart load of grain back to our shop. On a piece of cardboard lying on the ground, he first used a wooden block to pound the grain to separate the seed out from the head and then a wooden fan to separate most of the chaff and straw from the seeds. Chaff is the portion of plant material of the wheat head which surrounds and protects the kernels as they develop. Once this was done he picked the remaining small amount of foreign matter out of the grain by hand. With this process he was able to clean about 1/4 of a cup of grain at a time.
It took Adam about thirty minutes to harvest and clean a cup of Kamut® grain. From start to finish, it would require about an hour and a half to collect all three cups needed for just one loaf of bread. It was an eye-opener for all of us here on the farm just how good we have it using a modern combine with a 30-foot header that can cut, thrash, and clean enough grain to produce about 10-15,000 loaves of bread in the same hour and a half. Incidentally the combine got its name from combining the action of the reaper – later replaced by the binder, which cut the grain in the field and the stationary thrashing machine which separated out the grain from the heads and straw and cleaned it. These two machines were invented around the 1830’s and were in common use from the middle 1800’s to the early 1900’s. My Grandfather Quinn got his first combine in 1927 and thought it was a miracle machine. After watching Adam’s experiment, I agree with my Grandfather!