Foraging Walk in Los Angeles on February 25th

Our friend Nancy is back in town and offering this class. 
Heads up, you Westsidahz! It’s in Culver City.

RSVP required.

Join radical ecologist Nance Klehm for :::
Saturday, Feb 25th 11am-1pm Baldwin Park Scenic Overlook, Culver City
*meet at park entrance, by the sign, Jefferson and Hetzler,
This unique forage will be a two hour informally guided walk through the spontaneous and cultivated vegetation of our urbanscape. Along the walk, we will learn to identify plants and hear their botanical histories, stories of their cultural usages, animal usages, and human usages. Come share in the experiential, medicinal, magical, and uber-local properties of Los Angeles’s native plants. 
$20/person: maximum 25 people/urbanforage so secure your spot now!

Saturday’s Quote: Farmers, the Sexiest Men and Women Alive

Photo from the Library of Congress

“When the next batch of huricanes hits and the oil wells run dry, whom do you want to wake up next to?  Someone who can program HTML or someone who can help a cow give birth?  Do you want someone with Bluetooth or someone with a tractor?  How can someone who makes food out of dirt not impress you?”

-Lou Bendrick

Reasons and Resources for Growing Your Own Grains at Home

The world’s smallest patch of Sonora wheat

Reasons to grow grain
Why grow some of your own grain? I can think of a bunch of reasons:

  • You can plant unusual varieties
  • The large amount of biomass for your compost pile
  • Forage for livestock
  • Easy to grow and maintain
  • Part of a rotational strategy for maintaining healthy, disease free soil
  • Know that your grain is not contaminated with pesticides

    How to grow grain 
    Growing grain is pretty much the same as growing a lawn (most grains are grasses, after all). The main problem, as with a lawn, is dealing with weeds. I can weed by hand the ridiculously small Sonora wheat patch I planted in January. When dealing with a bigger piece of land, the traditional, organic approach is to grow some sort of weed choking, nitrogen fixing plant such as cowpeas the season before planting grain. In Southern California, wheat is planted in January, as far as I can tell. In most other places it is planted in the fall.

    I looked through a couple of books for growing grain at home and the best I could find is Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon, originally published in 1977 but recently updated and re-released. Logsdon covers the full spectrum of grains as well as legumes. Included are instructions for harvesting, threshing and winnowing by hand. Logsdon is an entertaining and engaging writer who calls small backyard grain fields “pancake patches”. My pancake patch will probably yield exactly one pancake, but I’m looking forward to the result. Logsdon was my guide.

    How to winnow and thresh by hand
    At a Grow Biointensive workshop in Willits last year they taught us how to thresh and winnow wheat with just hardware cloth and an electric fan:

    Using your feet you rub the seed heads against a piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth attached to a board. You then lift off the hardware cloth and sweep the grain into a kitchen trash can.

    Then you dump the grain in front of a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff. Several passes are necessary.

    An optional last step is to pass the grain through special seed cleaning screens. It works great, but the screens are expensive.The alternative is more passes in front of the fan. I’ve done this process with flax and it worked just fine.

    If you’ve grown grain tell us how it went by leaving a comment!

    On Monday the final post of Root Simple’s grain week in which we will tackle why eating grains and other carbohydrates are so unpopular in the past decade.

    Support AB 1616 To Make Bake Sales Legal in California

    Photo from

    From Mark Stambler of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers:

    AB1616, the California Homemade Food Act, was introduced in the California State Assembly today by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). This cottage food law will finally allow people in California to legally sell bread [and other “non-hazardous” food such as honey, jams and jellies] they bake at home!

    The Los Angeles Bread Bakers helped draft the legislation and will be organizing community support for it over the next few months. If all goes well, the bill will be signed into law by the governor by the end of the summer. But, of course, it will take a lot of work to make sure this happens, including visits to elected representatives.

    For those of you who need more info about it, please visit

    Many states have cottage food bills already (see a pdf of those states and the laws they have on the books). Those that don’t need one! In California, AB 1616 will help many people with home-based businesses in a time of economic uncertainty. Please consider making a donation to the Sustainable Economies Law Center to help pass AB 1616. See for details of the bill and for a complete list of the foods that are covered under the legislation.

    Cooking With Heritage Grains: Sonora Wheat Pasta

    Once you start working with heritage grain varieties it’s hard to go back to the few choices in the flour aisle we have at most supermarkets. I managed to get my hands on some Sonora wheat a few months back and have been experimenting with it ever since. Traditionally used for tortillas, it’s also great for pancakes and bread. Yesterday I made pasta with Sonora wheat using a recipe by Whole Grain Connection founder Monica Spiller. You can find the recipe and others on

    To make this eggless pasta, all you do is combine heated water, Sonora wheat and salt and run it through a pasta maker. The result? A pasta with a pleasing nutty flavor and a beautiful light brown color.

    Rules for Eating Wheat

    Antebellum-Style Graham Wheat Flour from the Anson Mills website

    Much of the bad press surrounding wheat in recent years is well deserved. Wheat and grain allergies may be some of the most common allergies known to medicine. I strongly suspect that the cause for these allergies may be in the types of wheat we’re growing.

    Let’s start with some history. Humans have eaten and tinkered with grain genetics for at least 30,000 years, well before the development of what we now call “agriculture”.  But with each change in wheat genetics came new, unexpected outcomes. Those changes greatly accelerated in the last one hundred and fifty years.

    • In the 19th century farmers moved away from growing soft wheat varieties and shifted to hard wheat, which performs better in mechanized roller mills. 
    • In the mid 20th century Norman Borlaug launched the green revolution by developing new wheat varieties.
    • And now, Monsanto and Bill Gates are anxious to bring us genetically modified wheat. 

    The problem? When you make radical changes to a complex system such as wheat genetics you risk unforeseen consequences, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “black swans”. The unforeseen consequences may be the large percentage of the population with wheat allergies. I’ll admit that this is a hunch of mine not based on any peer reviewed study. But scientists have identified at least 27 potential allergens in modern wheat and researchers are looking at simpler forms of ancient wheat such as Einkorn to see if they have fewer allergens.

    So what can we do to prevent wheat based black swans? I think we need a wheat equivalent of Michael Pollan’s food rules, so here it goes:

    • Acknowledge our ignorance in the face of the great complexity of nature. Thus, we should be conservative when it comes to plant breeding. Saving seed and developing local varieties are a good thing. Genetic modification is probably a huge risk. 
    • Breed wheat for flavor and disease resistance not shipability and ease of mechanical harvesting.
    • Our markets should have at least as many flour varieties as flavors of soda.
    • We should be willing to pay a little more for a higher quality flour.
      • Eat whole grains rather than refined grains whenever possible. The nutrients and substances we remove from whole grains to make refined white flour may contain substances that prevent allergic reactions.
      • Support local farmers who are growing older forms of grain (soft wheat such as Sonora and ancient wheat such as Einkorn). If you can’t find something local, mail order your flour. 
      • Consider growing grain at home as part of a rotational strategy in your garden. See Lawns to Loaves for inspiration.

      One source for interesting flour by mail order:

      Anson Mills

      If any of you know of other sources for heritage flours (either brick and mortar or mail order) please leave a comment.

      Is Modern Wheat Killing Us?

      Wheat field, Froid, Montana, 1941. (Library of Congress image)

      It’s been a bad decade for grains. Between publicity about grain allergies and fads such as the Atkins and paleo diets, a lot of people are shunning wheat, rye and barley. At a panel discussion this weekend sponsored by Common Grains I heard Monica Spiller of the Whole Grain Connection and Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills make some compelling arguments that will forever change the way I see grain. It was, no exaggeration here, a paradigm shifting discussion. Some of the questions Spiller and Roberts raised:

      • Could modern hard wheat varieties, bred for the convenience of industrial agriculture, have the unintended consequence of increasing allergic reactions? Are older varieties healthier for us?
      • What have we lost in terms of flavor when we decreased the diversity of grain varieties?
      • Is sourdough bread a pro-biotic food? Could some of the allergy problems associated with bread be related to commercial yeast strains and the way commercial yeast processes sugar?

      I’ll spend the rest of this week taking a deeper look at these issues, including some practical suggestions about what we can do in our kitchens and gardens to bring back heritage grains.

      Easy To Make Furniture: Sunset DIY Manual From the 1970s

      PVC pipe and an avocado colored cushion? Instant outdoor furniture, or so this campy 1970s furniture manual, Easy-to-Make Furniture,from the editors of Sunset Magazine, would have you believe.

      While I think DIY furniture books from this period are somewhat horrifying, I have a respect for their can-do attitude in the face of the era’s declining wood shop skills. Then, WHAM, the global economy and Ikea came along and wiped out the last remaining economic reasons to try to make your own furniture.

      That being said, I think some clever folks with time on their hands and an eye for discarded materials could make use of some of the concepts in this book.

      So start dumpster diving! Let’s take those scavenged materials and revisit the bean bag. Easy-to-Make furniture has its own unique twist on the concept. Say hello to the “Multiposition Tube Seat”:

      And yes you can have a particle board chair:

      With a built-in magazine rack:

      Scope out this book in its entirety here.