Establishing the Organic Farmers Association

After years of effort, including a couple unsuccessful starts, a representative voice for the organic farmers in America is finally becoming a reality. This effort began as a shared idea between a few organizational representatives from various regions throughout the country, myself included. Nearly five years ago, we formed a committee working slowly toward a national organization specifically for organic farmers. Last fall, the Rodale Institute launched a similar idea and after a great deal of deliberation, we have combined forces with the official organization of the Organic Farmers Association (OFA).

Prior to the merger, the organizational committee represented six regions within the United States which contained nearly equal numbers of certified organic farmers, according to USDA records. The committee then appointed two organic farmers and one supporting organization representative from each region and began establishing procedure and organizational recommendations for the steering committee’s consideration.

The steering committee met for the first time in La Crosse, Wisconsin just before the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference in late February of this year. At the time, we still had four steering committee positions to fill but most of the appointees were present along with Rodale Institute representative, Jeff Moyer. The primary focus of the meeting was to make formal recommendations regarding organizational structure, policy development procedures, a mission statement and overall vision as well as developing a budget and fundraising strategies. Our goal is to officially present, discuss and adopt the results of this meeting with elected representatives at our first annual conference which we hope to hold this coming winter. And although we made significant progress, the steering committee’s task is far from over.

Perhaps the most noteworthy and important decision of our newly-founded Organic Farmers Association thus far, is that only certified organic farmer members will be allowed to vote. This ensures that the organization will be give organic farmers a voice, both as a part of the OFA and on behalf of organic farmers throughout their region and America.

In the end, we hope to establish an organization that represents organic farmers throughout America, rather than favoring one region, special interest or organization over another. We are well on our way to creating an organization which is truly representative of the American organic farmer.

Irish Stew with Parsnips

Spring hasn’t quite reached us up here on the plains of northern Montana but mid-February the snow had more or less melted and the ground had thawed which made it the perfect time to harvest the parsnips in our garden. Parsnips look like white carrots and are planted in the spring. Of course, you could harvest them in the fall but their flavor and sweetness improves dramatically if you harvest them in the late winter after the snow melts and the ground is no longer frozen. They tend to start growing in the very early spring and will bolt and go to seed quickly. It is important to harvest them before they start growing so the roots do not become soft and woody. Timing is important.

Despite the melting snow, it’s still pretty chilly here on the farm and call me old-fashioned, but there are few things better on a chilly day than a warm bowl of stew. Especially when that stew is largely made up of some of the vegetables we grow right here. If you’ve never eaten a parsnip, this is a great introductory recipe. And what better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day than a bowl of Irish Stew?

1 tablespoon The Oil Barn® safflower oil (can also use olive oil)
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1½ inch pieces (or substitute with beef—grass-fed is best, if you can get it)
1 large onion, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 cups water, or as needed
3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 cup coarsely chopped leeks (or green onions)
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat oil over medium heat in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add meat pieces and cook, stirring gently, until evenly browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the onion, carrots, and parsnips and cook gently alongside the meat for a few minutes. Stir in the water. Cover and bring to a boil before turning the heat down to low. Simmer for 1 hour or longer, depending on the cut of meat used and if it is tender yet.

Stir in potatoes, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, before adding leeks and rosemary. Continue to simmer uncovered, until potatoes are tender but still whole. Serve hot with fresh parsley.

KAMUT® Wheat Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a middle-eastern dish I first remember eating in a Turkish restaurant in London some years back. Since then, it has become one of my favorite dishes to make for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious: it’s tasty! But it’s also made almost entirely from ingredients we grow right here on the farm, including our KAMUT® wheat bulgur. I encourage you to give this unique recipe a try and let me know what you think.

And for more delicious KAMUT® grain recipes like this one, be sure to visit Kamut International’s website.

1 cup KAMUT® wheat bulgur
2 tablespoons The Oil Barn® safflower oil (can also use olive oil)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup diced tomatoes
½ cup sliced green onion

Place bulgur in a large bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over bulgur and let soften for 30 minutes. The bulgur will absorb most of the liquid.

In large bowl whisk together safflower oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Drain bulgur in a strainer and add to dressing. Add parsley, tomatoes, and green onion, and toss well to cover evenly. Bon appétit!

A Pellet at a Time: Experimenting with Compost

Earlier this year, while seeding our safflower and KAMUT® wheat, we mentioned adding something called COMPELL compost pellets to several acres of these two crops. In my experience, each farm is as individual as the farmer who works on it, so a promising new idea being tested elsewhere may produce completely different results on our farm. And that’s what we’re testing here.

If you’ve ever spread compost in your backyard garden, you already know it’s hard work and those bags you picked up at your local greenhouse add up quickly. Because most gardens are small and the value of the crops are high, the investment in compost is worth it. However, while spreading 10 tons of compost per acre on a wheat field may provide a big boost to the wheat, this boost also comes at a huge economic loss. So, when my friend Tom called to say he had a new product—compressed compost pellets—which could be placed right with the seed at a rate of about 40 pounds per acre and show both agronomic and economic benefits, I was immediately interested.

Rather than applying prior to seeding, by spreading over the top of the soil, these pellets are actually put into the drills and seeded along with the crops. This is potentially beneficial in several ways. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is time since the compost pellets can be applied at the same time we’re seeding. It’s also far less product to purchase and handle overall; we only needed a few pounds of compost pellets per acre, versus the tons per acre that would have been required with the surface application of regular compost.

But I think one of the most interesting aspects of this compost pellet idea is the potential benefit for each individual seed. If we were to spread compost over an entire field, it certainly would be beneficial for the crop but it wouldn’t hurt the weeds either. By planting the compost pellets with the seeds, each plant has immediate access to the higher nutrition before the weeds get a chance to elbow in and the additions to the microbiological component is also right where the germinating seed can use it.

This year we split a few fields of safflower and KAMUT® grain into a handful of plots to which we applied varying rates of the compost pellets—between 0, 20, 40 and 80 pounds per acre. As with any good experiment, the variation gives us a good idea of what will potentially work best for us here on the farm. The company we purchased the pellets from has seen the most success with a 40-pound per acre application rate and for our KAMUT® grain we would agree, though we were a little disappointed the results were not more dramatic. The Kamut grain at the 40-pound application rate saw an increase of 8%, which did pay for the application but was quite a bit lower than had been seen in other years on other wheat fields. This year, however, may have been a bad one to experiment with due to all the unusual rain which produced so much disease. We are interested enough to continue our experiment another year with the KAMUT® wheat fields. Our safflower field, however, did not seem effected by the compost pellets at all and we saw no benefits, regardless of the rate.

Rest assured, we will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more.

Bin to Barn: Growing Pains at The Oil Barn®

You may recall The Oil Barn® added a couple new bins this past year. The additional bins have allowed Andrew to conveniently store more of the bulk of his clean, ready-to-crush safflower seed right there beside the barn rather than wherever there’s available space on the farm. And he really couldn’t have chosen a better year to do it, considering the harvest we pulled in this last season was the best ever for us.

The original bins were connected to the barn using flex augers. These small augers, which look like long pvc pipes, would automatically refill the seed containers over the presses inside the barn as they got low. My son-in-law is really quite clever. But adding the two new bins to the operation turned into more of a challenge than we’d expected.

Because the previous system had worked so well, the plan was to connect the new bins to the original two. But if I’ve learned nothing else about trying something new, the first try is rarely the last. Such was the case here. The flex augers were having a hard time keeping up with the additional pressure and began to back up, spilling safflower seed everywhere. Andrew’s not one to give up so easily and he continued to work on it, trying different connections, motors and layouts—all around regular production and deliveries—until this past fall he came up with a brand-new setup that works. By this time, he’d had to completely reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Even the original two bins had been integrated into this new system, which actually runs off one of his old press motors.

Automating the seed crushing process in the barn has numerous benefits: Our safflower oil production is more consistent, with less room for human error. And, since it’s still basically a one-man show with my grandson, Bryce, lending a hand, this gives Andrew more time to focus on sales and marketing, rather than manufacturing. And it’s just nice not having to move thousands of pounds of safflower seed from one place to another more than once, whether it’s between bins or to the presses.

The resulting automated layout is a success and a step forward as The Oil Barn® continues to grow.

A New Year: 2017 Resolutions

They say the key to committed and successful goal-making is to write them down, review them often and share them with others. Here at Quinn Farm & Ranch, goals are what propel us to a greater understanding of our land, our businesses, and our own individual expectations. Goals are something everyone can relate to, whether you’re an organic farmer near Big Sandy, Montana or an urban gardener in New York City. Goals can direct us to better ourselves and the world around us. Successful businesses and individuals make goals a priority and we’re no different here.

Each year we gather around our kitchen table for our first bi-weekly planning meeting of the year over a stack of warm KAMUT® grain sourdough pancakes and list what we want to achieve in the coming year. It’s one of my favorite meetings of the year, if for no other reason than the sense of optimism and possibility.

My main focus for 2017 is to find a farm mechanic to add to our team here in Big Sandy. I am also working on establishing a permanent research center on the farm. And I hope to complete several book and video projects concerning the first 30 years of the KAMUT® grain story.

One of my farm manager Seth’s annual goals is a set date to complete spring seeding. If you’re a farmer, or even a gardener, you know that planting times can make all the difference. If you plant too early and the ground is still too cold, you risk a low germination, or growth, rate and higher weed competition. But if you wait too long, you risk running out of moisture. Moisture and weed management are key to dryland farming here in northern Montana, so we work hard to meet this goal. Obviously, we’re at the mercy of the weather, but there’s always the hope that there will be enough dry days in the spring to plant and enough rain in the early summer to grow. Seth is also looking at increasing the diversity of our crops a little more this year.

My produce manager, Charley, is gearing up to jump into a little local public relations for our orchard and dryland vegetables. The idea is to create awareness of the farm as a producer of more than just wheat. By getting involved in community events, Charley will have the opportunity to not only involve local friends and neighbors on the farm, but to educate them about the benefits of food sovereignty as well as sustainable, organic agriculture. He is also looking to expand our local dryland vegetable and seed production market with the goal to make these enterprises more self-sufficient this year. And he made a lot of progress toward this goal last year.

Our newest addition to the farm crew, Chad, has extensive experience with and interest in cattle. And for the first time in 32 years, Quinn Farm & Ranch is looking to add cows back into our operation. This time they will be a part of our organic crop rotations and organic research. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as this idea moves forward.

It’s no surprise that my son-in-law, Andrew, at The Oil Barn® has seen a continual increase in interest for our cold-pressed, hi-oleic, organic safflower oil. It’s a great product! Keeping up with demand, however, has been a challenge. Every year we’ve used the seed from each harvest with very little to spare. Thankfully, this last year was the best we’ve ever had for our safflower. So Andrew’s aiming to increase production to better meet both our loyal customer’s current needs as well as new interest. So if you haven’t tried it, now’s the time!

And last, but certainly not least, the manager for our Kracklin’ Kamut® organic snack, Thomas, is approaching his first full year with the Big Sandy Organics company. He has big plans, including a larger facility, support staff, and increasing consumer availability. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand the appeal, as well as the demand. I also understand we may see some new flavors in the coming months, so be sure to check back for updates.

Overall, 2017 is looking to be a very productive year. So, stay tuned.