From Seed to Plant to Plate — and Back?

We have grown wheat in our garden for the last three years.  I originally got the wheat seeds at a meeting of the Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children – MNACC for short. I didn’t know anything about growing or harvesting wheat but I thought it would look nice in the center of the raised beds – to contrast all the other plants — and it did.

In 2008 when we first planted wheat in our garden I didn’t really have any type of goal in mind, no lesson plan, no purpose other than growing something different in the garden. In the fall when we harvested the last of our vegetables we also collected all the wheat heads. I was actually thinking about using the wheat for crafts or decorations but first I let the children take some of it apart and examine it closely with magnifying glasses.

We did some research, identified all the parts of the wheat plants and what they were used for.  I even used my food processor to grind up some of the wheat and make – very coarse – flour.  And then, one of the preschoolers decided that we should use our new flour to make cookies!  So of course we did because that’s what child-led curriculum is all about.  Our very crunchy ‘wholegrain’ cookies were also very good according to the children.

In 2009 as we planted the wheat in the garden the children were already discussing how we would be using it in the fall.  They had big plans.  “This time”, they said, “we would be making muffins!”  I was more experienced too and used my coffee grinder to turn the wheat into flour – it does a much better job than the food processor.  The muffins were excellent.

2010 was a dismal year. Most of the summer had been cool and very wet.  Our garden produced little of value – several tomatoes, a few cucumbers, one zucchini, some inedible corn, kale that was eaten by something else and only a handful of wheat.  There would be no baking this year.

So, as I was contemplating what we would do for 2011 it occurred to me that the term ‘multigrain’ comes up often in our discussions about food and nutrition but what exactly does it mean? There are other grains besides wheat — maybe we should try to grow some other grains too.

This could be interesting but I wondered where in the city could I get a variety of grain seeds from?  I’ve never seen grain seed at any of the places that I purchase our vegetable seeds from. Spur of the moment I fired off an email to the agriculture department at the University of Manitoba explaining my dilemma and asking for suggestions.

The response surprised me.

They didn’t suggest a nearby farmer or a feed store or any type of ‘agriculture’ type place. They suggested the “Scoop N’Weigh” store on Taylor Ave (sorry, they don’t seem to have a website so I can’t link to them but now that I’ve been there I have to say that it is a totally awesome place). I was stunned.

Honestly, it had never occurred to me to go to a bulk food store to buy grain seeds.  I mean, I wanted seeds for my garden not seeds to eat!?!?! – OMG – For years have I been trying to get children to see the connection between our garden and the food we eat AND I COULDN’T SEE THIS!   Sigh.

This is the end of this post.  It’s not the end of this project – we’ve got some new grain seeds and we’ve begun some experiments but I still need some time to wrap my head around this new concept. I still can’t believe I didn’t see this – and part of me is still doubtful that the seeds will even sprout.  I still have some information to process.