Against the Grain: Growing a Small-scale Business

Learn how one family turned a passion for sharing homegrown products into a successful enterprise.

| November/December 2018

  • author's husband in grain field biting grain kernel
    The author’s husband uses the “bite into the kernel method."
    Photo by Susan Reed
  • field of grain
    Reed Farms’ triticale field awaits processing by its refurbished pull-type combine. The farm offers triticale to its customers as a rye-wheat blend.
    Photo by Susan Reed
  • John deere model 30 pull-type combine
    Reed Farms’ John Deere Model 30 pull-type combine.
    Susan Reed
  • clipper seed cleaner
    Susanne Reed and her husband refurbished this A.T. Ferrell & Co. Clipper seed cleaner from the 1800s, after purchasing it from an antique store.
    Photo by Susan Reed
  • pancake mix
    Reed Farms offer value-added products to their customers including flours for pancake mix and sugar cookies.
    Photo by Susan Reed

  • author's husband in grain field biting grain kernel
  • field of grain
  • John deere model 30 pull-type combine
  • clipper seed cleaner
  • pancake mix

My family began produce farming several years ago. We were so excited to share our beans, tomatoes, corn, and melons with our local community.

What we quickly learned is that it's much easier to grow produce than to sell it. We had a window of only a few days between when we picked the produce and when it had to be sold. If the produce didn't sell, it spoiled and had to be fed to our farm animals. Although our animals enjoyed our losses, we definitely did not. We had to hustle every single day of the week to fulfill our community-supported agriculture (CSA) orders and sell produce at farmers markets, our own produce stand, and local stores. We were exhausted. While we didn't mind being extremely busy, we also wanted to see more reward for our efforts.

So, planning for the upcoming season, we brainstormed ideas for a new product to complement our produce. We outlined the following criteria for this new product: It needed to have a longer shelf life than produce, be available to sell during winter months, be easy to store, be packaged based on orders, and have little competition in our area.

The winning product? Grain to make flour. We had enough land to grow grain, and we knew consumers could use flour in many ways. But we knew nothing about growing grain, so we spent weeks researching cultivars, planting and harvesting times, necessary equipment, governmental regulations, and milling options.



Which Grains to Grow?

We loved the idea of bringing back heirloom grains. At the top of our list of crops we wanted to grow were ancient grains, such as einkorn. Unfortunately, the seed for ancient grains is more expensive than our budget would allow. So, we crossed them off the list and considered more common, traditional grains that are used in many products.

We took that list to the farmers market and polled our customers for feedback. We found they wanted wheat, rye, cornmeal, and a gluten-free flour. We took those preferences to heart and ordered seeds from a neighboring farm that grows grain on a much larger scale. In addition to traditional wheat and rye seed, we bought an open-pollinated corn cultivar dating from the late 1800s. To create a rye-wheat blend, we chose triticale, a grain that naturally cross-pollinated with rye. For our gluten-free product, we selected a white sorghum.






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