Saturday, July 19, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Upon the Fields of Barley

This week brings the news that Ayers Creek Farm will be expanding to include another market, this one in McMinnville. We can only assume that this is a scheme to dominate the rare organic heirloom vegetable and fruit markets, first in the city, then (bwa-ha-ha) the world. Though it may take awhile. A long while. So, for now, look for Anthony and Carol at the Hillsdale market on Sundays from 10 am till 2 pm and the McMinnville market from 1:30 pm until 6 pm on Thursdays.

Arabian Blue barley (photo, above) is an ancient six-row variety out of Saudi Arabia. It remains beautiful when cooked. The naked barleys thresh free from their hulls. For brewing and animal feed, a persistent hull is necessary as it separates the grains and keeps them from overheating during the malting process or digestion. Consequently, almost all of the barley grown in North America has a hull glued to the grain. The naked grain barleys are generally associated with cultures where brewing alcohol is forbidden. There is some breeding of the naked varieties for fattening swine, but flavor is not one of the selection criteria in those programs.

We have a few varieties of naked barley in the pipeline. Unfortunately, there is very little commercial interest in the naked varieties, so we rely on seed savers for our seed stock. There is an Arizona seed company that has some varieties, but they are proprietary and the farmer has to sign a contract that prevents them from replanting. That's no fun. It takes several years to get the first commercial crop from 200 seeds we receive from the barley enthusiasts. And yes, there are people simply dotty over naked barley walking among us unattended.

As a whole grain, barley is more nutritious and digestible than wheat. And among the grains, only corn and rice have greater diversity in kernel color, size and texture. Barley is very good for summertime vegetable and grain salads. Rinse well and soak overnight prior to cooking the grain.

[For more information on grain production than you'd ever want to know, please see Anthony's treatise on Market Farming and Grains on the blog Small Scale Grain and Pulse Production.]

Photos by Anthony Boutard.

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