Home-Grown Building Material | Winnower Farm
Winnower Farm & Ferments
Brendan Henry Olsworth
For the Rabbitry at Hen and Hare Microfarm we’ve sourced straw from two local farmers, Winnower Farm being one of them. Had a chance to talk with Brendan Henry Olsworth in early September, just a day or two after he’d delivered his straw to Jessica Harrold.
“We are a small diverse organic farm that ranges from medium scale grain production to seed production to grains and other fall crops… and broiler chickens. This is only my second year as Winnower Farms. I’ve been working on this farm actually for… this’ll be my fifth season. I used to work at Peaceful Belly and Fiddlers Green. (Right down the road). I’ve been working on this exact piece of ground for five years,” said Henry.
The discussion we had around supplying an increased demand for straw bale homes took some interesting turns. It’s part of EarthCraft’s long-range plan to participate in our vibrant local farming community, supporting our food producers while meeting the need for clean, green homes.
This is the first year Winnower has supplied straw for a straw bale structure. As Henry walked the farm with me he said, “In the future I’d probably split my straw production. I think a lot of it can go back to the soil. There’s a lot of benefits to no-till, but then there’s the benefit of being able to create really incredible infrastructure in buildings. Soil conservation is a big concern globally and definitely in our arid climate, especially when it comes to increasing local food production.”
The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was a man-made disaster that swept the Southern Plains and choked out peoples of the Northern Plains. It only took 40-50 years to create the circumstances that led to this, mainly deeply ploughing the virgin top soil to the degree that it all blew away. Soil conservation is a global concern among farmers and scientists. Conscientious farmers are balancing a series of responsibilities, ethics and long-term planning. Managing all farm products and byproducts is an important part of that.
I was moved to think area farmers would work to find the balance, among all the other responsibilities they juggle. Henry continued the conversation, “There’s a lot of research suggesting that the best way to conserve soil within your fields is to swap the grain and leave the straw, this is both to create biomass and conserve water. In the future I’d love to find the balance, like strip swathing, taking every other row of the straw. Then do 5 acres of baling and 5 acres of retention. Again there’s benefits to either side. I kinda like that, and think it’s smart for others to continue.”
On the topic of all the ways straw can be used, Henry let me know that, “…straw is super important. If you don’t do anything with it at all, you’re conserving a bunch of soil. Right now I raise a mixture of crops and livestock—It’s a perfect bedding. In the field it’s a great weed suppressor and water retainer. In the fall I’ll be using my bales to line the pathways and in the garden beds. It allows for less time watering it, an important consideration in the desert.”
I had to ask about future straw supply. We discussed a possible scenario. “If a 60 acre farm were to grow 20 acres of straw a year, and if several farms did that, that’s when you really start to realize you can create a lot of straw and still have a regenerative process. When you remove the straw it does make it easier for future plantings. One would just have to consider rotations of five or ten years, and consider when to bale straw and when to leave it on the ground.”
Winnower grows some of the oldest wheats and grains known. According to Healthline.com “Diets higher in ancient grains have been linked to health benefits, such as improved blood sugar and reduced inflammation, as well as heart disease and cancer risk.” Such as Einkorn, referred to as “the world’s most ancient wheat”—older even then Spelt. Ancient grains have become a health consideration for those who are extremely sensitive to wheat products. For some the ancient grains are a digestible alternative. It has the least amount of chromosomes. The more hybrid wheats we have the more chromosomes we have, so there’s arguments about how that can be more detrimental. That’s why heirloom grains are on the board more nutritious… not by much, but there has never been a hybrid that beats out heirloom grains for mineral content.
“Seed is a wonderful economic farmer for very small independent farmers. I work with the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. We’re trying to revitalize pre WWII grains, they’re heirloom, grown for hundreds of years. They’re of better quality. I’m one of a handful of growers trying to increase seed stock in the Intermountain West,” Henry illustrated.
Showing me the rate of possible production, Henry explained, “When I planted it this year I had this much (a handful) after this season I have this much (bin full).”
“In four years I could be planting 10 acres. That’s how my corn worked. I was gifted a pouch of blue corn. When I worked there (Fiddler’s Green) I grew one row. The next year I grew an acre of it, and now I’m continually just growing an acre cause that’s all I could handle. I sold it to someone who planted 40 acres. The amount, the rate at which it grows, is ridiculous. It’s like most seeds I guess, but it was a valuable lesson in the wonders of the world of seed. Now I’m full on obsessed.”