We have a long history of growing grain at Hawthorne Valley Farm and the Northeast region was actually formerly known as the breadbasket of the nation!
Here at the farm we previously grew spring grains such as oats and barley, as well as winter grains such as wheat or rye. We discontinued that practice in the mid nineties for a number of reasons. We felt it would benefit our soils to be in continuous cover (not plowing it up each season) and for the soil to have some rest (growing grain is more intense than growing grass). Additional grasses also provide more pasture and winter forage for our livestock. We also lost our combine (the piece of equipment used to harvest grain) in a fire and it was not easy to find a reliable team to do custom work.
With improved soil health over the past decade, we have reintroduced grains into our crop rotations. We only grow about 2 to 5 acres annually. This grain primarily finds its way into our Bakery and is ultimately sold in our Farm Store and at our Greenmarket stands in New York City.
Growing grain also affords us an opportunity to raise awareness around grains and their role in agriculture worldwide. For this purpose, we joined with Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, The Nature Institute, and an international effort called “Sowing the Future” (www.avenirsem.ch) which began in Switzerland. Sowing the Future strives to call attention to the effects of Genetically Modified (GM) plants while providing a chance for citizens to take positive action – in this case, sowing a field of grain. The effort also stresses the importance of sustaining locally-adapted varieties that our well-suited to the varied and highly unique climates around the world.
We hope in the very near future to grow 30 to 40 acres of grains (mostly rye and winter wheat) annually to supply our on-farm, organic Bakery. We are also exploring collaborative opportunities to bring small grains back to Columbia County.