Grains have not been grown in Vermont on a large scale since the 19th century, when wheat was a large part of our agricultural market and our state heritage, as evidenced by the shocks of wheat on the state flag. Our wheat crop peaked in the state around 1830, with approximately 40,000 acres of wheat in production. With exhausted soils and changing markets, however, growers turned wheat fields to pastureland and wheat production declined.
For those who already grow vegetables and fruit, and/or raise animals for meat, eggs, and dairy, growing your own grains is a further means of food security. New England was once the breadbasket of the United States, and we can still grow our own grains now. In 1878, the head of the Vermont Board of Agriculture, sensing the decline in his state’s wheat production, advised:
“It is not probable that we shall again produce wheat for export sale, but I do believe it to be good policy for every farmer who has a farm whose location is favorable and whose soil is suitable for the production of wheat, to raise enough for his own family consumption.”
(Henry M. Seely, Report of the Vermont Board of Agriculture, 1878 ed, Vol. 5, Montpelier, VT: J. & J.M. Poland, Official State Printers, 1878.)
Seely could have been wrong about this, but whether it’s for your “own family consumption” or for the commercial market, this exciting resurgence of grain-growing is certainly catching on in the northeast. Along with new agricultural technologies and grain varieties, as well as an increasing demand for locally-grown and locally-processed grains, we have a new market for northern grains.
To learn more about Vermont’s history with growing grains, read this article written by Mark Bushnell for The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, (January 31, 2010): In Early Vermont, Grain Was More Than Food (pdf).
The article No Grain, No Gain, from Seven Days’ October 15, 2008 issue, is another great read about Vermont’s grain-growing history.
And, don’t forget this great read by Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm!