Ecological food production


August 2014

Processing heritage grain – hard manual work on a 1/3 of an acre

Today was a physically hard day, I threshed and winnowed about 1/2 a Ranault Tafic van full into approx. 100kg. It took me from 10:30am to 4pm. I can now understand why machines were invented to help with grain processing. The first threshers were designed and made in the 18th Century – – and are huge beasts. They stayed in use until being usurped by the combine harvester – – which did the cutting, that would be done by scythe and the threshing and winnowing. I had a leaf sucker, a kids sandpit/ paddling pool, an old sieve and a waste paper bin. The wind was erratic and I had several issues. 

> The blower kept jamming as I pushed too much straw through it

> I had to move as I was too noisy and then used a stone ground to empty my threshed grain onto – great I thought, wrong! No! I now have small stones mixed in with the grain and am not sure how to sieve these out

> I thought i’d also found a quick way to winnow by blowing the straw and grain once on the stone ground and then sucking up the seeds with the sucker/ blower. It worked, but also shattered some of the grain. Not good as these will now deteriorate. 


I am now really thinking hard about testing fresh flower. Why not I now have the wheat berries and a place to mill it – – I need to read up and find the protocol for such an experiment. Off the top of my head I’m thinking. Mill three lots and then bake bread with the same recipe in the same oven. One a week old, another 48 hours old and the last freshest one less than 24 hours old. I’ll test the flour first, if I can find the place to test it – anyone? – for nutrient content and the make bread and test its baking qualities and taste. Before embarking on this thesis I had never considered that flour would deteriorate in quality over time. This article gives a nice write up on it – – but now having read and understood the science it makes perfect sense. The seed casing protects the content from oxidisation as soon as its broken vitamins and enzymes start to deteriorate.

Its great that I have enough seed to make flour with and will also have some to replant next season, I’m hopeful of enough for five acres, I’ll use the bonfis method – – if I can get winter seed or use my spring seed and graze the wheat once established but before going to seed (really not sure this will work) Maybe I should sow the spring wheat in late March post sowing a clover, chicory, buckwheat, etc mix. I’ll role the mix and plant through it then leave it until harvest.      


Processing wheat in the UK – an idiot from the city

I spent four hours today pushing wheat, straw and ears, through a Bosch leaf blower/ sucker to separate out the wheat berries. I have about 20kg of wheat berries (grain) from 20% of the harvest, so once it’s all processed I’ll have 80kg, which doesn’t sound a lot from 1/3 acre. Considering I knew nothing about growing grain up until five months ago, and two years ago I was selling digital advertising to agencies and dinning at La Gavroche and buying wine from La pont de la tour near Tower Bridge, the 80kg is a bloody miracle.

Those expensive places of my not to distant past couldn’t be further from my mind as I embark on a life that is much more about the imprint me and my family has on this planet. I am now acutely aware that every step I take has an impact somewhere on this planet, both nearby and far away and that everything – oxygen, mycelia, adrenalin, smiles – on this planet is finite and therefore precious, buying wine, having expensive meals, living in the bright lights of London rather dampens your awareness of this. What I did today is part of a transformative journey for me that in every respect feels right. The only thing that drags me down is the feeling that the current paradigm of mass consumption, of cheap expendable consumer goods, and the job as the driver for life that dominates in London and fills every inch of the restaurants I frequented will subjugate us and our desires to tread lightly on this earth.

If I can grow grain, process it – as the photos show…..

Sucking and blowing wheat
Sucking and blowing wheat

Image 1 Image 2 Image WP_20140828_004 WP_20140828_005 WP_20140828_006

have it milled, and bake sourdough bread, or sprout it and consume the mass of nutrients – Protein, Iron, Zinc, carbs and micro nutrients – then I shall be leading my family on a more sustainable path, something we all should be doing with some urgency. In a generation or two, at most, the world is going to be a very different place, one way or another. So I am choosing to change my imprint and my families imprint now. Yes I am driving a van and using electric power to thesh my wheat, but I rationalise this with the fact I was given this Van when my dad passed away and that the blower/ sucker was my only option asides beating it with a stick, as there is no farm scale processing left in the UK anymore.

I am proud I am fighting against the industrialised agrobusiness arable industry in some small way. I am proving that any idiot from the cities with an once of passion can change their imprint on the world and provide hope for future generations. Besides I am sure the loaves I make from this fresh heritage wheat flour will be the most nutritional and tasty bread I have ever eaten.

If you would like some flour get in touch….. I’ll be milling mid-sept 2014.

Welsh Grain forum – as a model for a grain business?

I spoke to Tony from the Welsh grain project today, he works for the Organic centre Wales and he runs the grain project there. His aim is to formalise direct relationships between the different , sometimes disparate, parts of the grain process. In the project there are three farmers, one NON organic and the other two growing a grain called Mulika. Tony envisages that putting bakers and millers in contact means that they can formulate a plan and together approach growers with a specific idea of the quantities to grow already in mind. This reduces the risk for farmers, by assuring them of an outlet for their crop and enables the baker and miller to obtain local products, that could hopefully be made into wholly local sourdough bread. It is also important for Tony’s project to consider the health effects of industrially processed modern wheat. We also talked about wheat populations and heritage grain, but Tony’s role was to try and put local networks together. Heritage grain, populations of grain or discussions around the historic grains of wales, Welsh bearded for example, were not considered.

I need to ask a few more questions of Tony. For example, Is there a contract between the parties that means the product has to be bought once grown? How are the prices fixed, if at all? How do you propose to test the health benefits of this new structure?

On another note. The van load of wheat is being processed down here in Devon. I had to start it today as the weather broke and the sun came out, besides it can’t be good for it to be stuck in my van, damp, hot, full of insects.

Choca with wheat ready to process.
Choca with wheat ready to process.

With the help of Abraham at I found a way to thresh the grain – separate the grain from the straw – by using a leaf blower, sucker, mulcher.

It makes a hell of a noise and you have to push the straw into it.
It makes a hell of a noise and you have to push the straw into it.

With a plastic blade that chops the straw and unsettles the grain.

Its spins and sucks and ruffles
Its spins and sucks and ruffles

Once the van load of straw and grain has been through the machine I end up with a mixture of straw and seed.

all broken up
all broken up

Then I sift the straw by using agile hand movements, the wind and a kids paddling pool… and I get this.

A bowl of seed with a iphone stuffed in it for scale
A bowl of seed with a iphone stuffed in it for scale

The seeds are a fair size and the colour is healthy.

The best use I have had for my phone in six months
The best use I have had for my phone in six months

The next stage, apart from finishing the rest of the van load of grain – I have only treshed two bags and I have another 100 or so to do, I estimate I’ll have 250kg of grain once it has all been processed – is to mill it and then BAKE bread the sourdough way. I now really want to test the quality, rise, structure and taste, of it once baked into bread and once sprouted. I think I’ll do an anonymous test. I’ll process and mill enough for 10 x 500g loaves. I’ll send out the flour along with shop bought stone ground flour marked A and B. Get the bakers to bake and test it with the friends… I’ll do the same with the whole grain and get people to sprout it and sample it…. exciting times for me and for small scale grain growing in south Devon, UK.

Prologue – growing grain in the UK and making a business out of it.

I had been working 18 years non stop since I left Manchester Met uni in 1995 with a design history degree. My career had been in digital advertising sales, selling space on websites to brands. Some of the stuff I was proud of: The worlds first economic partnership on Flickr for Sainsbury’s, Yahoo UK’s largest day take over, Intel received 80k clicks in one day. Then there was a load of stuff that seamed pointless, pithy, and arduous. The state of the advertising business was one that Richard Sennet, in the Craftsmen, describes so well. Amazon, Dunnhumby, Yahoo! were all companies speaking like they were part of the new paradigm with flat open networks of ideas, chains of reciprocal relationships and expressed as enthralling, and rewarding places to work. In fact they were simply hierarchical companies parading as part of a new paradigm. These places were stuffed to the rafters with managers that loved to look up, or even suck up, to people where the only difference, as far as I could tell, was that they were paid more money than them. Whilst at the same time controlling people ‘below’ them to do tasks couldn’t or didn’t want to do, most of the controlled would begrudgingly complete the tasks without question. This type of behaviour and structure is still prevalent in London business today. People fear for their jobs so they keep their feelings and thoughts to themselves and carry around their bitterness, even when it is important for their lives that they speak up, so many people I know are doing 10 to 12 hour days and then having to continue working through their smart phone at night and at weekends. How is this a life? How is this “working” for? The fear of losing their job is real and apparent and replacement of them is easy, (like an ant colony) if you look at this process economically it sort of works ok, you simply hire someone else from the huge pot of available candidates with less skill and pay them less, although there are 20% to 30% recruitment fees to be paid out and managers therefore spend lots of time interviewing, taking their time away from the job they should be doing. If you look at it in human terms then of course it doesn’t work out at all. People are not meant to be treated like numbers, machines and parts, but they are. If only people treated their colleagues with respect and as a corporation of humans behaved respectfully and supported eachother. The Mondragon co-op is one of Spains largest companies and when companies within the co-op need financial help or are having struggles with their strategy the financial core takes the company under its wing and guides the strategy and supports the people within the co-op, setting them on a new path.  

Growing grain is my way of stepping out of the industrialised monocultural anthropocentric world and into a world that is more conscious, more alive and connected. The grain has to be the most honest, as Nature intended, as I can find. It has to be grown with the gentlest of touches and respected for the living being it is. All this is the anthesis of my past life. When at Amazon I was told my manager that he wanted to “punch me in the face, as you are annoying me” during a meeting at head office, at Dunnhumby my boss read every email I sent out, had me change 50% of the slides I was to present and then said things like “helicopter view”.

I am struggling with the processing currently. The grain and straw neatly packs in to my Renault Trafic 2007 van, but it needs to come out and be threshed and winnowed. I then need to mill it and make bread with it…. which is going to be really exciting. This whole process and industry is so much better than selling ad space to people at agencies who didn’t care about you, the product, the environment, just money. 

Craft (Artisanal) bakers

Wheat - mainly April bearded - 11 days away from harvest.
Wheat – mainly April bearded – 11 days away from harvest.

In the UK we condemned our craft bakers at the same time we scaled up industrialisation, some time soon after the end of the second world war. As a nation we stopped eating half as much bread, down from 1565g in 1955 to 885g in 1981 (Wenlock, 1983). Is this due to the commoditisation of our food system and bread making as part of that?  I grew up in the 70’s and ate things like Finders Crispy Pancakes, waffles, short crust bread pizza with cornedbeef topping and pasta in a can, my wife’s diet was a lot worse than that, and a friend of mines mum boiled her corn on the cob for an hour, and in a a pressure cooker. I ate healthy allotment veg too, but everything outside our immediate control took the form of industrialised rubbish. In Richard Sennets book ‘The Carftsmen’ he talks in his prologue about Reinhold Neibuhr and his observation that anything that seems possible should be tried, and that this is built into our very existence. Sennet goes on to document the writings of Heidegger on the occasion he compared the misdeed of death camps to mechanised agriculture. Both he says through Peter Kempt’s words “should be regarded as the embodiment of the ‘same technological frenzy’ which if left unchecked would lead to a world-wide ecological catastrophe. Those words were uttered in 1949, today we find ourselves deep inside this technological frenzy that has lead to this ecological catastrophe.

Bio-diversity loss is 1000 to 10,000 times it’s natural level caused mainly by industrial agriculture’s clammer for more land. As the land they had becomes defunct and yields stagnate or drop they burn and deforest the next swath. As the majority of the worlds industrially processed land is used for cereal growth and wheat is the third biggest crop at 600m tones(FAOSTAT) off 520m acres, then we should think that – its a bit of a leap but I’ll explain more as this thesis develops – bread making on an industrial scale is a major cause of this ecological catastrophe and that just because we can create machines to take over what craftspeople used to do that doesn’t mean we should do it. Today in the UK 97% of our bread is ‘technologically’ constructed and consumed by us in bulk of eye watering proportions, 11m loaves baked a day (Whitely 2011), according to Mintel (2013) £3.8b a year was spent on baked goods in 2013 (this includes other bread, bagels, etc) and 53% of the UK population eat white sliced bread daily. In Neibuhr words this whole industry of machines and mechanical processes makes sense, we can do it so why wouldn’t we? We have proved with food, bread and agriculture that we can push our systems so far down a route that it is neigh on impossible for the majority of people to see a way back. With bread making I believe we can see our way back, past the 70’s and the great wars to a time when bread was made by craftspeople. Andrew Whitley – – argues we need 75,000 craft bakers to change the industrial baking paradigm we are currently in. This maybe true mathematically, and makes a lot of sense socially, I’d love to see, through my research whether this is already happening and if it is what form it could eventually end up as.

Any help elaborating on this subject is much appreciated…. feel free to comment.

The UK baking industry – where is it going?

The questions I am trying to get an answer to are: what does the baking industry currently look like and is there a model to follow that could see it challenge the dominant industrialised position? 

Currently in the UK over 85% of our bread is made in 20 minutes in the Chorley Wood process and consumed on mass by the british public. This process, from seed, growing, milling to making is detrimental to the health of the soil and to people – celiac disease has increased massively in the last ten years – and is a central cause to deforestation and climate change. As an industry and as consumers we have choices to make, do we drive to the super market and load our trolley with bread of little nutritional value made by machines, or nip to the local baker and buy something more nutritional, made by hand. What I really want to know is: What stage is the baking industry at? Are sales growing for artisan bakers? Are there more artisan bakers then there were five or ten years ago? Are industrial bakers struggling? 

If you could help by entering into debate with me that would be amazing…. 

What is an open sourced baking industry?

I have just been asked how I would describe an open sourced baking process so here goes.

I define open source as being of openness for others to suggest adaptions and changes. But, it really does depend on what part of the bread making process you are looking at as it changes with area. I’ll try to explain a little. If we start with seed, in the UK seeds have to be on the national list which is restricted to seeds that are distinct, uniform and stable, in order for them to be sold, swapped or given away. I think we should be able to give away wheat populations that are the antithesis of the list to open up (open source) heritage wheat and explore terrior. Land is the next part to the cycle and commons is the route here to open sourced. How do we open up land for more people to grow their own food or produce on? Land workers Alliance and Joyti Fernandez is doing some great work here. Harvesting and processing the wheat ready for milling, the third stage, is about co-ops and open sourced designs. Having access to collectively owned machinery is becoming common in co-ops and adapting and designing machines and letting everyone see your designs online is open sourcing as seen in the development of Linux, which everyone acknowledges is the best and one of the first open sourced projects. The forth stage of bread making is milling the wheat, this is about machinery (as in the last stage) and reforming broken or disused mills, co-ops and commons and open sourced designs and labour, but also about having enough smaller sized mills to make the whole non industrial process possible. Without mills or places where 30 or 40 acres of wheat can be milled there is no anti industrial bread making. Baking occurs at end and bread making bring this all together in many ways. In open sourced open to everyone ovens, like the long removed community ovens.  They could return and bring people together and learn about wheat, bread, gluten etc. Recipes and starters can be opened and sourced, seeds can be swapped and communities returned (I might not write this bit into my thesis as this is bigger than I’d dare). 

All this activity – I hope my late night ramblings make sense and delight in some way – I see wrapped in a commons internet that looks something like pintrest but behaves like air BNB. Where members are bustling with reviews and projects and connections, where all the designs for machinery are open and can be built by people or 3-D printed, where seeds can be grown in populations and owned by individuals, but only for their kudos not for their direct profit and sown by who ever felt like it. Where financial support is given and taken by those who want to and who care, to build a model where profit for profits sake is not the driver. Where skills in other areas from members can be swapped for reciprocal skills and groups form under engagement driven by their personalities.


Feel free to comment. I’ll post the reply I get from the person who asked the question when I get it

Wheat populations – the start of open sourced grain business

I have been interviewing and writing to people around the world about grain businesses and this is one of the exchanges…. 

Hi Monica,

Thank you kindly for your email. I find it amazing that 1/2 way across the world that the industrial agricultural problems are, even in the detail, match what we are experiencing in the UK. I spoke to Debbie from Breadshare last night who is a leading light in the push to expand the use and understanding of sourdough in the UK and she has the same issues you speak about with processing, as I do in Devon. The processing is either very small scale of very large scale. Where she is based Scotland, there are only three organic bakers and one organic mill. In Devon there are no organic mills. I’m not 100% sure on the organic bakers numbers yet, but I am sure who ever they are they get their flour from mills in other parts of the UK who in turn get their flour mostly from Kazakstan.

The problems here are multiple, as highlighted by my friend John Letts. 

> Wheat seed is controlled by a handful of seed companies and restricted, initially to protect farmers from rouge traders, to a national list. Every seed on that list has to be distinct, uniform and stable. This process is now firmly part of the industrialised process and is in the hands of Monsanto et el 

> Growing genetically diverse mixes of wheat (populations) is the antithesis of the above, is more natural, more resilient and hopefully tastier

> Harvesting – see brown wheat hanging its head slightly – which I am doing on the 22nd Aug with scythes, as thats what we are trained in is the only way to do it, and is adequate for up to three or four acres. Once it gets beyond that level we have to look at machinary and then buying and fixing old machines is the only route open to us. Unless we can share or swap equipment for bread? 



> Processing is a massive problem. There are NO threshers or winnowing machines anywhere I know of nearby. I am trying to contact people who might have equipment I can borrow, I am also contacting trade bodies like the soil association, but I don’t hold much hope there. Otherwise I have a van that I can store the cut straw and grain and dry it out – not sure I’ll get 1/2 an acre in there though. Then I could use the van to drive around a separated the wheat from the chaff. Anyone have any designs for this hair-brained idea?

> Milling is ok. There is a national trust water mill that is happy to mill for me for free. 

> I am then going to give the flour to bakers and bake myself and have a stall and event celebrating the final chapter of fine sourdough breads.

All this will form the core of my thesis and act as the engagement core to spread the vibe and increase engagement. This practical core is essential as the embryo for all other activity to grow from. I am going to work with people in the UK to follow your lead and open things up at every opportunity. 

Monica is from – 

O Repensar da Estratégia em Tempos de Mudança

Satish Is a great man, inspiring, concerned and loving.

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Satish Kumar

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