Grains Gone (Almost) Wild

It’s not every Community Supported Agriculture box that offers millet, lentils, and pancake mix made of freshly ground barley flour. But then Jennifer Greene, owner of Siskiyou County’s Windborne Farm, doesn’t do much of anything in a conventional manner.

Windborne Farm is neither monocrop nor market garden but 30 acres devoted to heirloom cereal grains such as rye, oats, wheat, kamut, and barley in the winter and millet and buckwheat in the summer. Greene also cultivates dry beans, dry corn, and pumpkin seeds. Not a veggie in sight.

“I just really like growing grains,” Greene says, not least because the fields are so beautiful in the late spring. “With vegetables, it’s a real hustle. Grains are in the ground for a long time. You don’t have to go to market three days a week.”

But a less-hectic growing cycle doesn’t translate into idle days. Windborne Farm produces about 15,000 pounds of grain and beans that Greene plants, maintains, cultivates, and mills almost singlehandedly. Though she does have two draft horses, Odin and Thor, to aid with the quarterly harvests, she rarely hires help. Not only would she rather work in the field than be a boss, she is uncomfortable with the class dynamics that come with relying on migrant farmworkers.

“It’s highly skilled labor, and I can’t afford to pay them what they deserve,” she explains. “I really don’t want to farm at the expense of other communities. Besides, how do we allow for immigrant labor to move on?” Greene says that after 14 years of working on farms, she created an operation that exemplifies a sustainable model of farming—and this means sustainability “in terms of a whole society, not just the land.”

Greene doesn’t compensate with heavy-duty machinery. “I’m a real small-scale, cottage industry, with low overhead. It doesn’t fit for me to have a $50,000 piece of equipment.”

The farm isn’t “certified anything,” but Greene’s crops are grown organically with some aspects of biodynamic farming, a holistic approach that uses principles that encourage the land to regenerate and heal. She maintains a high level of diversity, rotates crops, and composts.

“To be certified organic, you just have to not use chemicals,” Greene says. “Biodynamic farming is more of a whole ecology. It’s making an on-farm ecological cycle.” She believes the organic movement has become increasingly commercial. “I like biodynamics because it’s more spiritual than material.”

Greene worked at Mendocino County’s Live Power Farm in Covelo for two years, where she learned about “associative” economics: a localized system of mutual support between consumer and farmer. Members depend on the enrichment of the land for their survival and thus pay the farmers to steward it while also growing their food. The farmers bear less of a financial risk because money flows to them directly from members rather than through an impersonal market clogged with middlemen.

Greene is pioneering her own innovative relationships. Three years ago she started a program where people can lease one of her goats and receive all the products, such as soft cheeses, from that goat. Otherwise, Greene’s income, which amounts to about $2.00 per pound (“way more than I’d get selling wholesale”) is generated through her 90-member CSA. She does not supply high-end grocers or sell to nouveau organic restaurants. Instead she provides a monthly CSA bag that contains seven two-pound sacks of whole grains, freshly milled flours, hot cereal mix, beans, and corn. “If they don’t bake, it’s not going to work,” she laughs, adding that she tucks a few recipes into each bag—which she used to sew herself but laments that she no longer has the time.

Whether launching rent-a-goat or kindling a demand for “obscure” crops like teff, an Ethiopian grain distinguished as the world’s tiniest, Greene is growing a community of fans who have an intimate knowledge of their food. “Everyone gets mad at me if a crop fails,” she says. And in a culinary era characterized by TV dinners and wintertime peaches, provoking such an emotional connection just may be Greene’s biggest accomplishment.

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